One potential key player in the Reds’ recent rebuild is a pitcher with close ties to Clermont County.
Clermont Northeastern grad Seth Varner, drafted by the Reds out of Miami (Ohio) in 2014, is currently dealing for the club at Double-A Pensacola.
In his last start, an 11-4 win over Jackson on Saturday, June 23, Varner tossed six innings, allowing four runs (two earned) on five hits. He walked a batter and struck out another.
On the season for the Blue Wahoos, Varner has posted a perfect 4-0 record with a 2.61 ERA. He’s struck out 44 batters in 48 innings while walking just 10.
Varner said things are going well in the minors right now, though he’s still rebuilding strength after an injury-shortend 2017 season.
“Everything is going pretty well,” Varner said. “The arm is feeling well, a lot better than it did last year. I”m still gaining some strength, but since getting moved to the starting rotation, everything is starting to click.”
Varner’s injury last season, which limited him to just eight total starts at High-A Daytona, occurred before spring training and didn’t get better.
“In 2016, I think I finished right around 130 innings,” Varner said. “I played in the fall league. Right around spring training, just trying to amp things up, I felt some discomfort in my elbow. I went out to Arizona early, had a couple corizone shots, but I felt the same discomfort and it locked my elbow up. They cleaned out some bone spurs and some scar tissue, so I had to rehab that. I ended up around 40-50 innings last year.”
Varner has made 14 total appearances this season, six of which have came in the starting rotation. His last five games have all been starts, and he said the routine on those days is mainly about relaxing and making healthy choices.
“It’s usually pretty relaxed, especially at home,” Varner said. “When I can drive to the facility, I usually show up about two hours before. Other than that, it’s about hydrating, trying to eat some good meals and playing some xBox to stay relaxed before the game.”
After one start with Daytona this season, Varner moved to Pensacola, where he spent the first few weeks in the bullpen. He allowed nine earned runs in his 19 1/3 innings of work as a reliever, with all nine coming in a four-game period from April 22 to May 9.
“I had a couple tough-luck innings when I was out of the bullpen, “ Varner said. “If you make a mistake at this level, they seem to go a long way. Since moving into the rotation, things have been going well.”
That may be an understatement. Varner has allowed just five earned runs in 29 innings for the Blue Wahoos since joining the rotation for a start on May 25. The 26-year-old said he doesn’t prefer relieving over starting or vice-versa, instead he just wants to help the team win.
“I don’t have a big preference,” Varner said. “I enjoy the routine, being in the rotation, but our job is to go out there and try to get outs. Whatever I’m asked to do to help the team win.”
Varner has ties to another recent Clermont County draftee, as he shares a strength coach with West Clermont grad Cole Ayers, who was selected by the Astros earlier this month but will attend the University of Kentucky.
Varner attended Miami (Ohio) for four years, but didn’t really take off as a pitcher until his senior campaign.
“We had turnover with the coaching staff, and freshman year I was a midweek starter with a couple relief appearances out of the bullpen,” Varner said. “Sophomore year, I ran into some arm issues. Junior year was the starting rotation and some relief. In the summer, I went out to play in the California Collegiate League with one of my teammates and I figured some things out, made some adjustments mechanically and took that confidence into my senior fall. I threw really well, and they told me right before the season started I was going to be the Friday starter. I rode that confidence, which allowed me to still be playing today.”
Varner posted a 7-3 record over 15 starts for the Redhawks as a senior, compiling a 2.85 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 104 1/3 innings. He was drafted by the Reds in the 10th round of the 2014 MLB Draft, receiving the call right before another big event.
“I was excited,” Varner said. “It was a strange time, because one of my high school friends was getting married and the rounds where I knew I could get taken in were right before a rehearsal. I got the call and had to go straight to that. I would’ve liked to be with my family and friends, but I was practicing for a wedding.”
In his first season in the Reds’ farm system, 2015, Varner set an organization record by striking out a combined 134 batters and walking just 11, one of which was intentional. The 13.4:1 strikeout to walk ratio was a record.
Varner said that, contrary to what he was told at the time, pitching in the Southern Buckeye Conference prepared him for future success, and he’s kept that underdog mentality with him to this day.
“I feel like no matter what level I’m at, I’m always considered an underdog,” Varner said. “When I was pitching in the SBC, I remember hearing guys say I wouldn’t be able to perform at the higher levels because the competition didn’t get me prepared. I’ve always let that fuel my fire, outwork my opponents and be the best teammate I can be.”