February 2009

Phillips to bat cleanup, more news

Heard there was ice back at the ranch in Cincinnati. Sorry folks — mid 70s down here again. But don’t worry — we’re going to get ours Friday when it will get no higher in the 50s. So it’s not all sun and surf in Sarasota.

Here’s some stuff to keep you updated:

Dusty Baker said that Brandon Phillips will be his cleanup hitter this season.

images.jpg“Oh yeah. He’ll be better,” Baker said. “Brandon will have a good year. Everybody struggles sometimes that third or fourth year. Now Brandon will re-adjust to what they’re throwing him. Sometimes, they wouldn’t throw Brandon a lot of strikes. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of it, you can’t see it. But when you’re smart like Brandon and take some time away from it, you can step back and see things.”

Also — reliever Bill Bray has started throwing in the bullpen after missing a couple of days with a sore shoulder.

Outfielder Norris Hopper has reported no trouble with throwing. Hopper is coming off Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He began his throwing program in January.

There was another session of live BP for hitters. Francisco Cordero, Bronson Arroyo, Nick Masset, Micah Owings and Jared Burton were among those who took the mound. Hitters particularly had their hands full with hard-throwing lefty prospect Pedro Viola. Masset has dropped about 15 pounds since last season.

Owner/CEO Bob Castellini arrived at the complex Thursday.

 

 

Dickerson wants LF spot

Chris Dickerson is part of a crowded mix of players vying for the left field vacancy. He was not intimidated by the competition and feels his chances are good.

“What’s the point in coming out if you don’t feel like you’re going to win the spot?” Dickerson said. “I don’t come out here to sit on the bench.”

Dickerson has a lot of reasons to feel confident. After his August call-up, he batted .304 with six homers and 15 RBIs in 31 games after he was a .260 hitter in 622 Minor League games.

“The fact that you did it, your confidence level rises,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “You think you belong here. He’s always had the ability. Everybody was trying to figure out when he was going to put it together.”

Baker still wasn’t ready to hand left field to Dickerson. The Reds also re-signed Jerry Hairston Jr. and added Jonny Gomes and Jacque Jones as non-roster players.

“Is that enough to make him the left fielder on what he did last year?” Baker said. “It’s a combination of not enough yet but on the way. You need some more if you’re going to win.”

What do you think — should Dickerson have the inside track in left field based on last season? 

Random thoughts

You’d be amazed at what flows through your mind when you’re dodging bad Florida drivers.

 

 Does anyone else wish Alex Rodriguez would drop the “young and stupid” defense? It’s hard enough to get away with saying that when you’re 20-21. In 2001 when he started on steroids, Rodriguez was 25. … the Reds should feel pretty good knowing one of their better NL Central rivals, the Brewers, had to sign Eric Gagne to a minor league deal. Milwaukee’s pitching stands to be very, very thin in 2009. … I miss having a DVR to record TV shows down here. I have a feeling there will be a half-dozen episodes of “Damages” waiting for me at home. … I’ve already been to eat lunch at Gus’ diner by the Sarasota facility four times in five days. I will miss Gus’ but I hope Goodyear has In ‘N Out Burger near the new facility.  … Speaking of Goodyear, I wonder if I will tire of seeing desert reds and oranges everywhere in Arizona as much as I get worn out seeing Florida Turquoise and salmon. … If John Larroquette, Valerie Bertinelli, Joanna Kerns, Tori Spelling, Tracey Gold and Mark Consuelos appeared in the same TV movie, would the Lifetime and Hallmark networks implode? … there have been no Dick Vitale sightings at Reds camp to this point. … I liked the ’25 random things’ on Facebook, but I could do without the copycats like three notes, one-word answers, 25 favorite songs, etc. … beware to anyone that comes down here and visits Siesta Key. For some reason, the local government chose the peak tourist season to do a major street and sidewalk construction in the village. Parking is at a massive premium.

Encarnacion to change hitting approach

Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, owner of a new two-year, $7.6 million contract that avoided arbitration, made his camp debut on Wednesday. In a good mood for obvious reasons, Encarnacion said he committed in the off-season to returning to his old approach of hitting.

“I want to try to stay more to the middle. Last year, I tried to pull too many balls and hit more homers,” Encarnacion said. “That’s why my average went down. I will be more consistent with my hitter. I know I can do it. I’ve done it before. I know I can hit better than that and I just have to keep working.

“You can’t go to the plate hitting like crazy. You have to go up with some plan. That’s what makes you a better hitter.”

One of the better clutch run producers before 2008, the 26-year-old Encarnacion  batted .251 with a career-high 26 home runs but only 68 RBIs in 146 games.

During his playing career, Reds manager Dusty Baker said he made similar mistakes.

“Sometimes it happens at that point of your career. It happened to me. It’s a disease – I call it home run-itis,” Baker said. “You start liking the trot. What happens is you end up hitting lower, less RBIs and have just as many homers. I got a letter from Joe Black, I’ll never forget it. I still have the letter. He told me to ‘remember you’re a hitter, not a slugger.”

Other notes from Wednesday:

Jerry Hairston Jr. worked out with the outfielders when workouts began on Tuesday. Baker said not to read too much into that. Hairston is also considered a backup shortstop option to Alex Gonzalez.

“It was day one. You have to start somewhere,” Baker said.

Hairston told me he will play shortstop for Team Mexico at the World Baseball Classic. His mother is Mexican.

Live BP:

It’s one of those days of the year when pitchers have total dominance over hitters — the Reds went through live batting practice. Pitchers faced hitters and threw at game speed. On one field, a group of hitters faced Aaron Harang, Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto in succession.

Volquez and Cueto throw in the mid 90s with some nasty breaking stuff.

“I don’t even want to get in there,” joked Norris Hopper as Volquez pitched.

The only hitter to really connect on a pitch was Daryle Ward, who cleared the right field fence against Cueto. On another field, Homer Bailey, Arthur Rhodes and Mike Lincoln also faced hitters.

Gonzalez reports, ready to go

A fit and trim Alex Gonzalez was in camp as the full squad reported on Tuesday morning. As the regular shortstop, Gonzalez will be a focal point all spring after he missed all of last season with a compression fracture that required microfracture surgery.

Before the team held it’s first workout, Gonzalez said he was fully healthy and ready. He also worked out with his Venezuelan winter ball team before coming to camp. 

“I tried to play but they wouldn’t let me play,” Gonzalez said. “I was training with the team, taking groundballs, running drills, running the bases.

“Right now, I feel good. I’ve been moving side-to-side, back and front. I’m running and hitting. I’m doing all that kind of stuff.”

The Reds say they boast a strong middle defense with Brandon Phillips, Willy Taveras and Ramon Hernandez but any hopes for the team to improve defensively will require Gonzalez to be healthy.

 

Update: Gonzalez looked very smooth taking infield practice and showed no signs of favoring his knee. 

 

Other notes from Tuesday:

  • Reliever Bill Bray has yet to throw from the mound because of a tender left shoulder. Bray has had a history of shoulder tendinitis.

“He’ll be on track soon,” Jocketty said.

 

  • Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan arrived in camp as a guest instructor on Tuesday. Morgan, who is now the main game analyst for ESPN, could be seen giving instruction to infielder Chris Valaika and Gonzalez.

 

  • I saw 2008 first round Draft pick Yonder Alonso take batting practice for the first time. One of the first balls he hit cleared the fence and he looked very good swinging to all fields. Of course, it was just BP with coach Freddie Benevides throwing from 40 feet away, and not Jake Peavy from 60 feet, six inches. 

 

  • Joey Votto will definitely play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. He was told that he would likely be the DH since the squad already has Twins first baseman Justin Morneau. 

 

Encarnacion signs two-year deal

The Reds avoided arbitration with third baseman Edwin Encarnacion on Tuesday by agreeing to a new two-year contract. Terms were not immediately available.

Encarnacion’s arbitration hearing was scheduled for Tuesday in Arizona.

When numbers were exchanged last month, Encarnacion was seeking $3.7 million while the club offered $2.55 million.

“The aftermath is never nice,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said of arbitration hearings. “I’m glad they came to an agreement. It’s good for Edwin and good for us.”

Update:

The deal came together at 2:30 am ET, general manager Walt Jocketty said. Encarnacion’s hearing was scheduled for 9:30 am Phoenix time. The Reds had assistant GM Bob Miller in Arizona to head their case.

“It was inevitable it’d go right to the end,” Jocketty said. “It seemed like there were a lot of guys in that class that were kind of negotiating until the end for whatever reason. Anyhow, we’re glad to get it done.”

The Reds have not gone to arbitration with a player since they won a case over pitcher Chris Reitsma in 2004.

 

 

Full camp almost here

 

Another sunny but windy day at the MMW Sarasota bureau. Activity is ramping up as the full squad reports Tuesday with a first full workout set for 11 am. But a majority of position players are already here and many took batting practice inside the stadium. Brandon Phillips reported on Monday.

Among those not seen yet are Edwin Encarnacion and Alex Gonzalez. Catcher Humberto Cota is still having visa issues. Encarnacion will have a good excuse to not be here since Tuesday is his arbitration hearing date. Assistant GM Bob Miller will lead the Reds case if the hearing happens and is already in Arizona, where it will take place. Encarnacion is seeking $3.7 million while the club offered $2.55 million.

The Reds have not had an arbitration case since beating pitcher Chris Reitsma in 2004.

 

One hundred steals?: I met new free agent acquisition Willy Taveras for the first time. Taveras had a down offensive year last season with Colorado and still stole 68 bases. He thinks that if he can get his on-base percentage up while playing everyday — he could swipe 100.

“To go over 100, if you’re on base percentage is .350, that can be possible. It can happen,” Taveras said.

Last season, Taveras had a .251 average and .308 on base percentage. He plans on bunting more and keeping infielders on their toes.

 

New bat rules: Fans might notice there will be fewer more all-black bats used in the Majors this season. The players are just finding that out. Phillips, who has always used black maple bats, opened a new shipment of bats and was stunned when he saw a two-tone white and black model. In response to some dangerous incidents with broken maple bats — new Major League safety standards says all maple and birch bats “must have a natural or clear finish.” Bats made from ash can be all black.

“I just want all white,” Phillips told equipment manager Rick Stowe. “I can’t deal with two-tone.”

 

Owings on feeling healthy, hitting

Pitcher Micah Owings, who missed much of the second half with a shoulder injury before his trade from Arizona for Adam Dunn, is in a battle for the fifth starter’s spot. He’s already thrown in the bullpen and reports no health issues.

“That’s the most important thing right now that I’m feeling good,” Owings said. “I threw a couple of ‘pens before I came down. I’m starting to feel like I can cut it loose again. After going down with strain last year, you kind of think about how you might come back.”

All winter, the emails flowed to the former mailbag asking for the Reds to convert Owings from a pitcher to everyday player since he can hit. Does it bother the right-hander?

“My whole life I’ve been treated as a pitcher and then a hitter,” Owings said. “So I kind of think that since I’ve made it to the big leagues, it’s kind of been the opposite. I consider it as a compliment and respectful. By no means, do I take it as a knock on my pitching. But that’s what I’m here to do and that’s what my focus is going to be. Hitting is just a plus.”

Owings, who will likely pinch-hit during the season, has taken some swings in the cage this spring.

 

 

It's up to Homer

In 2006, Homer Bailey was the young phenom getting his first look at camp. In 2007 and 2008, he was still the top starting pitching prospect in camp. After a trying season last year, now he is simply in the mix for the fifth spot.

“Here’s the ball Homer,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said Sunday morning. “I’m not going to put any pressure on him other than what he puts on himself. I’m pulling for him, big time. He’s one of the guys in the mix. He’s had some opportunity but he’s still so young. He’s not close to have exhausted his opportunity. He’s 22 — you’ve just heard of him forever. As long as you’ve heard about him, you’d think he’s 30 years old. We’re going to keep trying to instruct him. The ball is in his hands, so to speak.”

Another note from Sunday morning:

Closer Francisco Cordero has been held back some from conditioning drills but is still doing the fielding drills. He had a bone spur removed from his right ankle near the end of last season. Cordero will no longer join the Dominican club for the World Baseball Classic.

Numerology:

Third base coach Mark Berry switched to No. 41 after wearing No. 55 since 2000. Berry gave up No. 55 to new catcher Ramon Hernandez, who wore it his whole career. Such a transaction often involves compensation for the guy who surrendered his number.

“When is that Mercedes being delivered, Bear,” pitching coach Dick Pole said.

 “I’ll take a black pair of shoe laces,” Berry replied.

Berry had a good reason for selecting No. 41.

“It reminds me of Nuxie, what’s a better number?” he said, referring to the late Joe Nuxhall. “It’s going down hill with me wearing it.”

 

One down, many more to go

Mid 70s with a nice breeze — you couldn’t ask for a more pleasant day to start Spring Training on Saturday.

The 29 pitchers and seven of the eight catchers hit the field after morning physicals on the report day. It was basic stuff — pitchers doing PFP drills (fielding practice), bunting drills and bullpen sessions. Aaron Harang, Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey were among those that threw in the ‘pen.

Some of the observations from day one:

 

Cueto looked in better shape than last year. He looked to be throwing pretty well too. His catcher, Ramon Hernandez repeatedly was praising the right-hander in Spanish after several of the throws.

Also in great shape was Harang. He went from around 280 lbs. to 255 lbs.

Non-roster catcher Humberto Cota was the only catcher missing. He was still en route from Mexico.

Here’s a quiz for you — do you know who the most tenured Reds are now that Griffey, Dunn and Freel are gone?

1. Harang – since 2003 (six years)

2. David Weathers – 1998, 2005-pres (five years)

3. Edwin Encarnacion – since 2005 (four years and he’s only 26)

4. Bronson Arroyo – since 2006 (three years)

Harang, Weathers and Bailey are the only three pitchers left that started camp in 2006. Bailey was just in camp for a first look but not a roster contender. Arroyo arrived mid-camp after being traded from the Red Sox.

“How weird is that? That’s a lot of turnaround,” Weathers said.

Finally — in prank of the day…someone left bears, balloons, and hearts at Jay Bruce’s locker for Valentine’s Day. The nice touch was the framed picture of his girlfriend on the chair.

 

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