February 2009

Game on.

Today is the first day of the rest of the season…really. Grapefruit League action starts today and if we’re thinking alike — it’s a very welcomed date on the calendar.

For now, here is the Rays’ lineup. (See earlier post for the Reds)

Bartlett SS, Crawford LF, Longoria 3B, Burrell DH, Aybar 1B, Navarro C, Zobrist 2B, Gross RF, Perez CF   P Hernandez.

In transactions — LHP Bill Bray, SS Paul Janish and C/IF Wilkin Castillo agreed to one-year contracts. The Reds have eight players unsigned.

In other notes from the clubhouse:

Castillo and LHP Pedro Viola were not selected by the Dominican Republic for the World Baseball Classic but no reason was given. Manager Dusty Baker did not rule out carrying three catchers so Castillo could benefit from the D.R.’s decision.

“For Castillo, it’s a chance to show more what he can do,” Baker said. “His chances were increased by not going without being selected.

“If you’re going to have a third catcher, you’d like him to be more versatile. He could play a lot of places.”

“I’m trying to make the team and I’m working hard,” Castillo said. “I am ready to play everywhere — wherever the manager needs me.”

The Reds’ lineup appeared to be similar to what you will see on April 6 for Opening Day.

“Pretty close,” Baker said. “It depends on who we’re facing. On Opening Day, we’ll see [Mets lefty ace Johan] Santana so it might be a little different.”

The lineup will be together for the next four days since Joey Votto, Willy Taveras, Jerry Hairston and Ramon Hernandez are leaving March 1 for the WBC. Baker used a DH in Jacque Jones and doesn’t plan on having pitchers hit until at least March 10. 

This is the first time big league baseball has been played in Port Charlotte since 2002 when the Rangers were in the facility. They moved to Surprise, Ariz., the following year. Since then, a $27 million renovation was done here and the ballpark looks like a very nice place for fans to watch baseball.

 

Reds representing

World Baseball Classic rosters were revealed on Tuesday night on MLB Network. There are nine players, six in particular, that you’ll probably care about more because they play for the Reds.

First baseman Joey Votto will play for Team Canada while starting pitchers Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto and center fielder Willy Taveras are set to play for the Dominican Republic. Utility player Jerry Hairston Jr. will play for Mexico and catcher Ramon Hernandez will play for Venezuela.

Among the Minor Leaguers in the organization, pitchers Alexander Smit and Juan Carlos Sulbaran are playing for the Netherlands while infielder Yen-Wen Kuo is headed to the Chinese Taipei club.

Mario Soto, who works in the Reds front office, will be the pitching coach for the Dominican squad and will supervise Volquez and Cueto closely.

Participating players will leave camp to join their squads on March 1. The 16-team World Baseball Classic tournament will run from March 5-23.

What do you think of the Reds participating? Would you like seeing some of the players facing off against one another? 

Afternoon delight.

The afternoon workout under game-like conditions is complete at Ed Smith Stadium. The home white team beat the visiting gray team, 7-3.

Aaron Harang had smooth sailing and a quick outing. In one scoreless inning, Harang threw 10 pitches over one scoreless inning with one strikeout. He threw 20 more pitches in the bullpen and said he faced the equivalent of four batters out there under simulated conditions,

“I felt good,” Harang said. “I was letting it go free and easy. Of course, the breaking stuff won’t be as sharp but as long as my heater is where it’s at right now, I’m not too worried about it. I’m keeping it down in the zone.”

Harang’s first exhibition start is on Sunday vs. the Yankees. He’s, of course, the Reds’ Opening Day starter on April 6 vs. the Mets.

The home team starting lineup was very close to what might be seen on Opening Day. In just two swings over two at-bats, Joey Votto hit an RBI double and a three-run home run to center field off of oitcher Jordan Smith. Jay Bruce added an RBI double for the white team while Jacque Jones hit a solo homer to right field.

In other news, lefty Bill Bray threw in the bullpen on Tuesday and is scheduled to throw a live BP session on Thursday. Bray was a little behind because of a sore shoulder at the start of camp but is doing OK.

Here is the starting lineup for Wednesday’s opener vs. the Rays. First pitch is at 1:05 p.m. ET. It’s pretty close to what the regular one will look like on April 6.

1. Willy Taveras CF

2. Jerry Hairston Jr. SS

3. Joey Votto 1B

4. Brandon Phillips 2B

5. Jay Bruce RF

6. Edwin Encarnacion 3B

7. Chris Dickerson LF

8. Ramon Hernandez C

9. Jacque Jones DH

SP – Edinson Volquez

Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey are among the pitchers to follow Volquez. Also making the trip will be former Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes and 2008 top draft pick Yonder Alonso.

 

I like long walks on the beach…

One of the true perks of getting to cover Spring Training in Florida is Siesta Key. Last year was the first time I stayed on the island and I returned to the same spot this year. I’m not exactly a beach person, but it’s certainly nice to have it close by — especially when you can watch some of the best sunsets around.
 My cellphone camera that took this shot Monday night probably doesn’t do it justice.

 
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Later today, the Reds will be playing in what’s being termed an afternoon workout. Aaron Harang will be pitching to hitters. There will be three outs per inning and no batting cage being used. But it’s not technically a game.

The first game is on Wednesday at the Rays’ new facility in Port Charlotte.

“Now you’ll have something to write about, and talk about,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

Definitely. In my nine seasons of covering baseball, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more serene camp. There have been no major injuries — with only precautions being taken with Alex Gonzalez and a little soreness for Bill Bray. There has been no drama. No superstars mean little national coverage. USA Today has been around twice and someone from SI.com made an appearance today. With games starting, performances can be evaluated and news can hopefully start flowing.

As mentioned last week, second baseman Brandon Phillips will be batting fourth. He acknowledged that he isn’t your prototypical cleanup hitter but embraces the role.

“I will go out there and do my best to hit fourth,” Phillips said. “I’m not really a No. 4 hitter so I’ll try my best. If I was on any other team, I know I wouldn’t be out there hitting fourth. Me hitting fourth and having the year I had last year, I was very happy. I’m not complaining. I understand I hit .260 with 20 jacks but those are beautiful stats for a second baseman. I’m not a home run hitter but I have to be that guy that’s going to drive in runs. I wish I could have drove in more but I missed three weeks of the season.”

Phillps broke his right index finger while bunting in September at Milwaukee. He said he’s had no issues since coming to camp.

With Joey Votto one of several players leaving camp for the World Baseball Classic soon, Baker plans to have a plethora of players manning first base. Expect to see Daryle Ward, Jeff Keppinger, Kevin Barker, Todd Frazier, Yonder Alonso, Adam Rosales, Wes Bankston, Jacque Jones and Jonny Gomes all get chances.

The Reds have agreed to terms on one-year contracts with four more 0-3 year players: OF Chris Dickerson, C Ryan Hanigan, IF/OF Jeff Keppinger and IF Danny Richar. That means 11 players remain unsigned.

More later from the afternoon workout — please check back.

 

No early games for Gonzalez

Shortstop Alex Gonzalez has had no setbacks since running the bases the other day but the Reds decided to not start him for the start of exhibition games as a precaution. Gonzalez also won’t play in Tuesday’s intrasquad afternoon workout.

“Gonzo isn’t going to start [Tuesday], or for a few days. My guess is at least a week,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “It’s just what I see and the trainers see. And where we are in the scheduling to get him ready for Opening Day. We’re trying to keep him healthy to be ready, that’s all. There are still a few tests he has to pass – sliding, cutting or if he had to get out of the way for a double play and avoid a collision.”

Gonzalez missed all of last season with compression fracture in his left knee, which required surgery. Look for Jeff Keppinger and Jerry Hairston Jr. to get more time at shortstop to prepare just in case Gonzalez isn’t ready — not that anyone is saying yet that he won’t be ready to start the season.

Other notes for Monday:

Baker said he is considering carrying five or six outfielders. With Willy Taveras set in center field and Jay Bruce in right field, that means there could be room for left field candidates Hairston, Chris Dickerson, Jonny Gomes and Jacque Jones to all make the roster.

“Somebody just might emerge and take it. That’d be fine with me,” Baker said. “But if we started right now, it probably would be more of a platoon situation with somebodies.”

No decision has been made yet whether to carry 11 or 12 pitchers.

I made a slight error in my Jones feature on Sunday. He had the lasiks eye surgery after he played in Mexican winter ball and not before like I wrote. That means Jones hit well while not seeing well down there. Interesting.

I think almost everyone is looking forward to a game of some sort being played on Tuesday. The repetition of drills does get redundant and people can start to separate themselves a little during game action. For me at least, Tuesday morning will be like how Bill Murray felt when he finally got to Feb. 3 in “Groundhog Day.”

Here are some lineups for Tuesday’s five-inning workout:

Home team:

1. Willy Taveras CF

2. Jerry Hairston Jr. LF

3. Joey Votto 1B

4. Brandon Phillips 2B

5. Jay Bruce RF

6. Edwin Encarnacion 3B

7. Jeff Keppinger SS

8. Ramon Hernandez C

9. Laynce Nix DH

Aaron Harang – P

Visitors:

1. Norris Hopper CF

2. Chris Dickerson LF

3. Adam Rosales 2B

4. Juan Francisco 3B

5. Jonny Gomes RF

6. Daryle Ward 1B

7. Ryan Hanigan C

8. Paul Janish SS

9. Jacque Jones DH

Jordan Smith – P

 

 

Guessing the 25-man roster

Before the games started this week, I thought it’d be a good idea to submit in my first 25-man roster prediction. This isn’t based on individual performances to this point, but the overall feel of things after almost 10 days in camp.

Infielders

1. Joey Votto
2. Brandon Phillips
3. Edwin Encarnacion
4. Alex Gonzalez
5. Jeff Keppinger
6. Jerry Hairston Jr.

Outfielders:

7. Jay Bruce
8. Willy Taveras
9.  Chris Dickerson
10. Jonny Gomes
11. Jacque Jones

Catchers:

12. Ramon Hernandez
13. Ryan Hanigan

Starting pitchers

14. Aaron Harang
15. Edinson Volquez
16. Bronson Arroyo
17. Johnny Cueto
18. Micah Owings

Bullpen:

19. Francisco Cordero
20. Jared Burton
21. David Weathers
22. Arthur Rhodes
23. Bill Bray
24. Mike Lincoln
25. Nick Masset

Keep a few things in mind — Masset is out of Minor League options and Homer Bailey is not. If Owings doesn’t make the rotation, he’d likely go to the bullpen because he can also pinch-hit. If Bailey has an absolutely sensational spring (like Cueto did last year), his quality of stuff puts him in the rotation. This also assumes 12 pitchers instead of 11, so that last bullpen spot could be swapped for one more bench spot. That would benefit someone like Wilkin Castillo or Daryle Ward.

As an FYI — the following players on the 40-man roster besides Masset that are also out of options: : RHP Bronson Arroyo, RHP Francisco Cordero, IF/OF Jeff Keppinger, RHP Mike Lincoln, 2B Brandon Phillips, LHP Arthur Rhodes and RHP David Weathers. I don’t think any of them have anything to worry about anyway.

What do you think? What would you change from the 25 men I listed?

Sunday's cornucopia

Nothing like forgetting to set your alarm to drop a jolt into your morning. I woke up at 7:15am on my own. I usually pick up fellow writer Hal McCoy to ride over to the complex at 7:30. So I had to cut some corners to get going but we still made it on time.

And because of that, here is your daily roughage of Reds news:

After a lousy 2008 where he was cut from two teams, outfielder Jacque Jones is hungry to prove himself. He got laser eye surgery and played winter ball in Mexico to find his stroke. He hit well down there.

“I wasn’t under contract with anybody. No one told me to go anywhere,” Jones said of winter ball. “I knew what I needed to do to play the game. I’ve never needed anyone to send me in the right direction for things I needed to do. I know what it takes.”

Jones is only 33 years old, which to manager Dusty Baker, means there should be plenty left. 

“Jacque can play,” Baker said. “He can play all three outfield positions. He can run. He hustles. He had a down year last year just like [Jonny] Gomes. But they have some track record of excellence. Just because you fall down for a while doesn’t mean you’re through, especially at the ages of those guys.”

More on that on MLB.com/Reds.com later Sunday. In other news:

Baker said he hasn’t decided if SS Alex Gonzalez will play in the first exhibition game on Wednesday. Gonzalez is still doing well but the club is taking it easy with him as I wrote yesterday. During the season, the manager said Gonzalez would likely hit seventh or eighth because there is too much running on his left knee needed for him to bat second.

It’s possible that catcher Ramon Hernandez could get some time at first base to spell Joey Votto against a tough lefty. It would also open up some chances for backup Ryan Hanigan.

Non-roster catcher Humberto Cota finally straightened out his visa issues and reported to camp. It will be a short stay since Cota is expected to leave to play for Mexico in the WBC.

The Dominican Republic classic squad asked the Reds on Saturday for the services of pitching prospect Pedro Viola.

The Reds will have enough pitching for Tuesday’s intrasquad game to last five innings.

Between now and Wednesday’s Grapefruit League opener at the Rays, Baker still has some things he’d like to get done — namely sliding drills.

“You probably get more injuries sliding than any other thing,” he said. “We have cut-off relays, pop-ups. You never get everything in because there are not enough days before the games. You try to get the most important stuff done early and add on as you play the games.”

Also highlighted was a comparison between the current camp location and the future one in Goodyear, Ariz.

“One drawback with Florida vs. Arizona is teams out there are so close that you can do a lot of your fundamentals and take your batting practice before you go [to road games],” Baker said. “You just go play the game. Here with the length of some of the trips, you’re lucky to have batting practice at their park. That’s about it. You do your work only at home games. Arizona, you work every day, home or road.”

And in the “they said it” department: Pitchers and infielders were working on situational stuff on a practice field. After Francisco Cordero was given a runner on first, two-out scenario, David Weathers was handed a runner on second with nobody out.

“You think that’s a sign of things to come?” joked Weathers. 

Cueto definitely pitching for D.R.

Johnny Cueto has delievered his RSVP for the World Baseball Classic. He’s definitely pitching for the Dominican Republic, instructor Mario Soto confirmed on Saturday.

With Edinson Volquez already locked in, the Reds will have two-fifths of their 2009 rotation away for a while. The World Baseball Classic tournament runs from March 5-23. Cueto, Volquez and Soto will leave camp on March 1 to begin workouts with the Dominican squad.

“They could be gone a week, or three weeks,” Reds pitching coach Dick Pole said.

Other Reds also planning on playing in the Classic are first baseman Joey Votto (Canada), catcher Ramon Hernandez (Venezuela) and utility player Jerry Hairston Jr. (Mexico).

Reds notes galore

I checked in with shortstop Alex Gonzalez this morning to see how his left knee was holding up after several days of drills. So far, so good — but Gonzalez said he is still easing into the running and not going at 100 percent.

“They don’t want me to run yet everyday,” said Gonzalez, who missed all of last season with a compression fracture. “When I started running, it was two-three times a week. Not only that, I’m doing a lot of stuff. Two days ago, I felt a little tight in both legs. Every day, I’m feeling good. I’m lifting weights and getting stronger. It’s nice and easy and getting ready for the season. Last year at this time, we were here and I was in the training room doing rehab. Now I can participate in Spring Training. I’m glad I can do a lot of stuff.”

A hodge podge of topics came up in manager Dusty Baker’s office this morning.

Pitcher Nick Masset is definitely in the mix for the fifth starter’s spot. Masset conditioned himself for starting during the off-season and could always go back to the bullpen if he doesn’t crack the starting five.

If Micah Owings doesn’t make the rotation, Baker wants to find a way to maximize his use as a pinch-hitter and reliever.

“If we could figure out how to get him loose, if he doesn’t make the starting rotation, he could be like a Brooks Kieschnick situation where he can pinch-hit and go into the game,” Baker said. “That was an interesting scenario when Kieschnick was doing it for the Brewers.”

Kieschnick was an outfielder-turned-pitcher for Milwaukee in 2003-2004. In 2003, he batted .300 with seven homers. Owings is .319 hitter with five home runs in 116 career big league at-bats.

“It’s no fluke. Some guys can hit,” Baker said.

Baker affirmed Willy Taveras’ statements earlier this week that it was possible for him to steal 100 bases this season. Taveras swiped 68 last year in a down offensive season.

There was a lot of praise for the effort position players had during drills on Friday.

“Yesterday was the finest baserunning and conditioning that I’ve ever seen as far as technique, cutting the bases, energy, training,” Baker said. “And some fun and competition as well. No complaining. This is an excellent group of guys.”

Coaches Mark Berry, Billy Hatcher and Eric Davis supervised the running drills. Baker was asked if there was more energy at this year’s camp.

“That comes with youth,” Baker said. “Youth, attitude and competition. And a desire to succeed.”

The first batch of players with 0-3 years of service time were signed. The club agreed to terms on one-year contracts with: OF Jay Bruce, RHP Jared Burton, RHP Carlos Fisher, 3B Juan Francisco, LHP Daniel Ray Herrera, RHP Sam LeCure, LHP Matt Maloney, RHP Robert Manuel, RHP Josh Roenicke, IF Adam Rosales and C Craig Tatum.

The spring rotation cleared up some. Aaron Harang will start in Tuesday’s intrasquad game. On Wednesday at TB, Edinson Volquez will start and be followed by Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto. On Thursday vs. Minnesota, Owings will start. On Friday vs. the Phillies, it’s Bronson Arroyo. On Saturday at the Red Sox, it’s Masset. 

 

Meet Jonny Gomes

Former Rays promising star Jonny Gomes is trying to make the Reds as a non-roster player. If he’s able to make it and succeed, he could become popular quickly. Gomes has a reputation for being a teammates’ teammate and is pretty good with the quotes.

Last season during the playoffs, he was often the guy with the mohawk shown on TV from the Tampa Bay bench supporting and congratulating teammates. He’s also the guy that stood up for his team during brawls against both the Yankees and Red Sox.

“That stuff isn’t going to win you a ballgame. It’s not going to lose you a ballgame either,” Gomes said. “But with the long haul that we’re in, we have to keep it a tight-knit family. There are so many peaks and valleys during a season, you have to keep the guys loose. Let them play for today and not drag a loss to the following day.

“On the other side of those peaks and valleys, laughs and cries, we have to be a brotherhood. Just like your family back home, if someone messes around with them, you have to step in and not get bullied around.”

Gomes works with former Reds star Kevin Mitchell on hitting during the off-season. Mitchell was one of the people that provided Dusty Baker with background when Baker started calling around about Gomes’ history.

Here is link to the story that I wrote for today:

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090220&content_id=3856246&vkey=news_cin&fext=.jsp&c_id=cin

Also from the complex Friday:

The pitchers were given the day off from throwing. There was no live BP, just regular coaches-thrown batting practice.

Everyone appears to be healthy at the moment. No one is being held back.

Joey Votto took a groundball off the face during infield practice but declined being looked at by the trainers and kept going. He seemed to be fine.

 

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