March 2009

Arroyo challenged

Bronson Arroyo gave up three earned runs and four hits over 4 2/3 innings in the Reds’ 3-1 loss to the Rays on Saturday. Arroyo also walked one and struck out four.

The day started out ominously with Arroyo hitting leadoff batter Jason Bartlett with a pitch and a single. A line drive to second base by Evan Longoria created a double play but Arroyo gave up back-to-back RBI doubles by Carlos Pena and Pat Burrell.

After that, Arroyo retired nine in a row and 10 of his last 12 batters. Willy Aybar hit a two-out solo homer in the fourth. Overall, Arroyo threw 77 pitches including 49 strikes. He has a 5.40 ERA in three spring starts.

“Even though we’re midway through spring, you realize what one long inning early on can do to you,” Arroyo said. “It takes your energy level down a lot. I’m glad to have gotten some good work today. Hopefully my next two starts will give me a little bit of that game feel and tougher lineups and start getting where you want to be so you’re built up to the sixth and seventh inning and not feeling taxed for the first couple of starts of the year.”

On the main web site today will be a longer feature on Arroyo. If he has a good start to this year like the way he finished last year, the Reds’ rotation could be pretty tough to reckon with.

Arroyo is one person who prefers the longer camp, and it could help him get that strong start to the regular season.

“The last, probably, two starts are when you’re going to really feel it, because you’ll be used to breaking camp around that time,” Arroyo said. “The last two starts are where you can get out there, hopefully touch 100 pitches or more, and feel like you’re pitching in a real game. That’s versus going into the first two starts of the year and almost feeling like you can’t go really deep in the game because you’re not quite built up enough unless everything goes your way.”

Arroyo was 15-11 with a 4.77 ERA last season but started out 4-7 with a 6.52 ERA.

Little things, news and lineups

In another sign that the Reds are more focused on executing the fundamentals, or little things, than in past years — Friday’s 1-0 win over the Twins is a prime example. Dusty Baker was still thinking about one particular play and planned to point it out in the team meeting before taking the field for the workout.

With a runner on first and no outs, pitcher Micah Owings fielded Matt Tolbert’s hot grounder to the mound and threw quickly to second base for a perfectly turned a 1-6-3 double play. Those fielding drills seem mundane in the early days of camp, but they do have a purpose.

“The key to the ballgame and I point it out on PFPs about those comebackers,” Baker said. “In a game like that, 1-0, that was a key thing to the whole ballgame. When he snagged that ball, being a good athlete, threw perfectly to second base. That would have been first and third and nobody out. I’m a firm believer that a whole bunch of games lost on balls hit back to the box. That’s what Pete Rose taught us. He told us all the time. Stay back through the box and stay out of the air. That is what’s he told my kid last year when I was throwing to him in the cage. The biggest hole is the closest person, no reaction time.”

More news you can use:

  • Another tweak to the spring rotation — Homer Bailey will pitch in a Minor League intrasquad game during Monday’s day off to stay on his regular turn. Daryl Thompson will also pitch in that game behind Bailey.
  • Bill Bray is scheduled to pitch again out of the bullpen on Sunday vs. the Blue Jays. Bray, who had a sore shoulder earlier in camp, hasn’t pitched since last Saturday vs. Toronto. This layoff has had nothing to do with his shoulder however. Bray has been bothered by a tight left hamstring and pitched on the back fields in a simulated game earlier this week.

“We didn’t want to take a chance on him if he couldn’t cover first effectively or bunts,” Baker said. “There was a play at first base [last Saturday] to Daryle Ward and Billy didn’t cover. I kind of hit the roof a little bit and then I found out it was his hamstring.”

  • You will notice in the lineup that the Reds have dispensed with the DH in their home games. Pitchers will hit from now on when possible.

“It’s about time for my pitchers to hit,” Baker said. “They would have been hitting sooner but we’ve had so many guys in camp that needed at-bats. But now it’s time for pitchers to be part of the game. Hopefully, they last long enough to get up there.”

  • Because it was a day game after a night game, a lot of the regulars didn’t start. But many of them were available off the bench. Expect their innings and at-bat totals to increase more as they build towards Opening Day.

Reds lineup:

Taveras CF, Keppinger SS, Nix RF, Ward 1B, Francisco 3B, Tatum C, Hopper LF, Janish 2B, Arroyo P

Rays lineup:

Bartlett SS, Crawford LF, Longoria 3B, Pena 1B, Burrell RF, Aybar 2B, Navarro C, Zobrist CF, Kazmir P 

 

Owings and Volquez look great

To this point, Micah Owings couldn’t ask for a better spring to compete for the fifth starter’s spot. Against the Twins during his fourth outing of spring, Owings cruised for four scoreless innings with two hits allowed and four strikeouts. The Reds won the game, 1-0, on a long Jonny Gomes homer to left field off of Francisco Liriano.

“It was weird throwing a night game after all of those day games,” Owings said. “It was nice to be under the lights again.”

That gave Owings a 1.23 ERA in four starts with eight hits, two walks and 16 strikeouts over 14 2/3 innings. His track record is not as a strikeout pitcher.

“I’m not really going to look too much into it or think much about it,” Owings said if his strikeout total. “The main thing is I’m focused on trusting my stuff and getting ahead. Ryan Hanigan was again back there solid calling pitches. We were on the same page the whole time. The biggest thing is getting ahead of hitters and being in position to put them away.”

Edinson Volquez followed and dealt three scoreless innings with one hit and two strikeouts. On the ballpark radar, one pitch reached 96 mph.

Volquez needed just 36 pitches to retire the Twins and rarely went deep in the count.

“It’s all about going deep in the game and not throwing too many pitches,” Volquez said after the game. “I threw a lot of first-pitch strikes. I had to go to the bullpen and throw 20 more pitches.”

Also — I forgot to mention earlier that Dusty Baker will have the rotation in this order during the regular season: Harang, Volquez, Arroyo and Cueto.  At this point, Owings is looking really good for the No. 5 spot but there is still a ways to go and Homer Bailey will have something to say about that.

And one more thing: Alex Gonzalez came through his second start at shortstop with no issues. Gonzalez went 1-for-3 with a single. He made an abrupt stop between first and second base and scampered back after his hit. He also turned a nice 1-6-3 double play on defense.

“I felt good,” Gonzalez said. “I had no problems. Each day I take another step. I have to keep working and keep doing what I’m doing. I’m getting stronger with my legs.”

 

Talking to Jones, Volquez, Baker

After Friday’s game, the Reds will be 15 down and 18 to go in the Grapefruit League pre-season. That means we’re about at the point where ‘it’s still early in spring’ or ‘it’s only been 20 at-bats’ no longer suffices. Currently batting .100 (2-for-20) in 11 games entering the night, non-roster outfielder Jacque Jones realizes things have to improve if he wants to be with the team in April.

“You have to do something to get on the team,” Jones said.

“I still feel like I can do it. I’ve been a little too quick. I’m trying to slow the game back down. The confidence is there. That’s not the problem.”

“You have to learn how to play and succeed when you feel like you’re not at your best. When things are going good, everything is OK. But I’m playing and things aren’t going the way you’d like them to go.”

Jones is one of several people trying to get a foothold on the vacancy in left field. Two of the other candidates, Jonny Gomes and Chris Dickerson, are having fantastic springs. Jones has a few things going for him, including a successful track record with the Twins and Cubs. He played in Chicago for Dusty Baker in 2006.

“I know he can play,” Baker said. “It’s a matter of just doing it and getting his confidence back through performance. For whatever reason, sometimes you lose your stroke. I’ve seen him play. It’d be different if I hadn’t seen him play.”

But Baker also made it clear that Jones has to show he can improve in order to make the team.

“You’ve almost got to find it,” he said. “If you’re one of my regulars, then you’re not as worried about finding it. But when you’re trying to make the team, you don’t have much choice.”

  • Edinson Volquez got teased a little bit when he walked into the clubhouse after getting off the bus. Volquez’s Dominican team was bounced by an underdog Netherlands squad this week in the World Baseball Classic. 

“You weren’t gone long enough for us to miss you,” one player joked to Volquez.

Despite the early exit, Volquez loved his experience with the Dominican team.

“It was unbelievable playing with those guys – Big Papi (David Ortiz) and Pedro Martinez.”

His favorite moment?

“Being with Pedro,” Volquez said. “He doesn’t teach anybody but you can learn from him. He doesn’t tell you anything about the game. He said ‘just watch me pitch and you can get something.”

Volquez is slated to pitch three innings tonight.

Volquez’s countryman, Johnny Cueto is slated to pitch either as a starter or reliever on Sunday against the Blue Jays. Nick Masset was originally slated to start but Baker might change the order.

“I’d probably be leaning towards starting Cueto,” Baker said. “He’s only warmed up as a starter and Masset knows how to warm up as a starter and a reliever.” 
 

Back in the press box

Greetings from Fort Myers and the Hammond Stadium press box. It’s a great view, made even greater by the well manicured field. For years, the Twins have employed groundskeeper guru George Toma Sr. to manicure the fields here. Toma was the man the NFL always used for its Super Bowls.

On to the notes…

  • The Reds have reset their rotation as follows: Arroyo (Sat. vs. TB), Masset (Sun. vs. TOR), OFF Monday, Bailey (Tues at PHI) and Harang (Wed at TB). No Cueto or Volquez on that list, which means that they’ll likely get work in from the bullpen or minor league games.
  • The Twins lineup:

Span CF, Casilla 2B, Kubel DH, Morneau 1B, Crede 3B, Cuddyer RF, Young LF, Redmond C, Tolbert SS

P – Liriano

  • Reds Minor League prospect Danny Dorn has a new blog with MLBlogs. Dorn, on outfielder and first baseman, reached Double-A last season. Check it out when you have a chance.

more after the Reds bus arrives…

 

 

Volquez to pitch, lineup

Count me as optimistic about Goodyear but the last day and a half underscored the point that it’s a shame the Reds leaving Sarasota. I will really miss Siesta Key. I never thought I’d say that but you can’t beat that beach or those sunsets.

It’s back to baseball today and I just got the travel roster. Edinson Volquez is on it and will pitch out of the bullpen against the Twins behind starter Micah Owings. I’m still a couple of hours away from leaving for Fort Myers to talk with Volquez, Dusty Baker, etc.

For now, here is the Reds lineup. The game starts at 7:05:

Dickerson CF, Gonzalez SS, Votto 1B, Phillips 2B, Bruce RF, Encarnacion 3B, Jones LF, Gomes DH, Hanigan C

Owings P

 

 

Off day reading

For the first time in just under a month, there’s no baseball to watch or complex to drive to. The Reds have their first scheduled off day of Spring Training today. While I enjoy what I do immensely, and I’m grateful for the chance to do it, this is a very welcomed day off.

Barring breaking news, I won’t have much to add today. However, there is fresh content on the main web site since today MLB.com just so happens to be doing it’s club spotlight on the Reds. So I will shamelessly plug the stories with some links below.

Main article:

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090312&content_id=3972250&vkey=news_cin&fext=.jsp&c_id=cin

Q&A with Dusty Baker:

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090312&content_id=3972258&vkey=news_cin&fext=.jsp&c_id=cin

Lisa Winston’s org. report and 10 Reds prospects to watch:

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090310&content_id=3960340&vkey=news_cin&fext=.jsp&c_id=cin

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090310&content_id=3962942&vkey=news_cin&fext=.jsp&c_id=cin

 

 

Good days for Harang, Bailey

Aaron Harang was easily the best he’s been this spring on Wednesday vs. the Astros. He threw four scoreless innings with three hits, no walks and four strikeouts. Harang left the game leading, 6-0. The Reds won easily by an 8-2 score.

Another pitching highlight was Homer Bailey, who tossed two scoreless innings. Bailey gave up three hits and hit a batter while striking out one. With two outs in the sixth, Hunter Pence and Geoff Blum lifted back-to- back singles to center field. David Newhan was in the foot by a slider and it loaded the bases. Bailey escaped serious damage when Lou Palmisano’s tailing fly ball near the right field foul line was snared by Jonny Gomes with a head-first diving catch.

Gomes catch was the play of the game.

“That was an outstanding catch. It was at a big time too,” said Bailey, who waited in front of the dugout to offer a thanks and high-five to Gomes.

Here was Bailey’s take on his outing:

“I wasn’t completely happy but I wasn’t displeased either.”

“Even some of the hits they had, I got inside on them. Those are good signs I’m getting the ball right where I need to be. The only problem I had was I couldn’t use my slider as an out pitch. I was a little long with it.”

The Newhan HBP was a slider near the dirt. Bailey mentioned he’s rarely used his changeup this spring but has success with a couple of strikeouts when he has.

Here are the fifth starter numbers to date:

Micah Owings is 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in three starts with 12 strikeouts through 10 2/3 innings. Bailey has a 0.90 ERA in four games, including two starts while totaling eight strikeouts in 10 innings. Third main candidate Nick Masset has struggled in two of his three outings and has a 6.75 ERA (six earned runs and 13 hits over eight innings).

Based on what I’ve seen, I think Owings is still the leader with Bailey a close second. 

Innings to tighten? Votto here

After last night’s shocking loss to the Netherlands, the Reds will be getting their eliminated Dominican players back, including Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto. That means the abundance of innings for extra pitchers will soon vanish since the starters will need to get work. While it would seem that could pare down the fifth starter’s battle some, no decisions have been made to trim the contenders.

“They just lost last night. We haven’t had a chance to talk about how we’ll arrange stuff or what we’re going to do,” manager Dusty Baker said. “We don’t have to make a decision on the fifth starter. That would negate the purpose of spring. That would go to who has had the early success and the real pressure isn’t coming until close to the end. The way I look at it is the better you handle this pressure, the better you can show me you’d handle that pressure down the stretch in a real pennant race.”

One solution would be to have established starters get their work in Minor League games. For now at least, Homer Bailey, Micah Owings and Nick Masset are still the top three fifth spot contenders.

 

  • After flying back from Toronto last night, Joey Votto was back in the clubhouse nice and early today despite being given the day off by Baker. Not surprisingly, Votto didn’t take it. He won’t play in the game vs. the Astros but will still do his full workout and batting practice.

“You know what? I just assumed I’d come in,” Votto said. “I didn’t think I’d get days off all of a sudden. We have a day off tomorrow so I didn’t think it was a good idea to take three straight days off with yesterday’s travel day.”

Reds lineup:

McDonald CF, Dickerson LF, Bruce RF, Phillips 2B, Ward 1B, Francisco 3B, Richar SS, Hanigan C, Keppinger DH

P – Harang

  • Bailey will follow Harang out of the bullpen. Thursday’s off day would have been Bailey’s normal turn to start.

“He’ll go shorter because of that fact,” Baker said. “He’s going a day earlier. I’d rather have him do that and go shorter than wait an extra day and that would back everybody else up too.”

Astros lineup:

Matsui DH, Bourn CF, Berkman 1B, Pence RF, Blum 3B, Newhan 2B, Palmisano C, Bogusevic LF, Manzella SS

P – Fulchino

  • Alex Gonzalez reported feeling good the day after playing shortstop vs. the Yankees. He will return to play on Friday vs. the Twins.

Gonzalez pleased, Masset shaky

In his first game action this spring at shortstop, Alex Gonzalez played five innings against the Yankees Tuesday night and was pretty pleased with how he did, especially since he had a few fielding chances.

“It was fun today to be in the field, playing the field,” Gonzalez said. I was excited today to get out there and do the best I can. I felt good. I felt good running and comfortable in the field.”

“That was a pretty good test for him,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He was only going to get four innings but he asked to play the fifth so he could play more defense.”

With no outs in the fourth, Gonzalez made a nice backhanded, short-hop pick on Jose Molina’s grounder and started the 6-4-3 double play.

“The ball was hit hard. I just stayed on the play,” Gonzalez said. “He hit it pretty good. I was thinking ‘hang on to the ball, don’t lose it.’ I kept my eyes on the ball and I have a great second baseman in Brandon Phillips. We had a slow runner going to first base and had all the time to turn the double play.”

“That was a great play,” Baker said. “He made it look easy but it was hard. That’s why he is one of the best.”
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In the second, Gonzalez nabbed a one-hop routine grounder from Angel Berroa, easily retired him for the third out. Gonzalez was also involved in a couple of close plays at second base, including one where Jay Bruce threw out Brett Gardner trying to stretch a single into a double in the third inning.

Gonzalez was 0-for-2 with a groundout to shortstop and a line out to second base. He ran up the bases slowly on the groundout. I didn’t think he looked too great but Gonzalez said he felt fine, better than fine in fact.

“Much better today. I didn’t feel any pain,” Gonzalez said. “The last couple games, I’ve felt better in my knee. I’ve got my speed back. A couple of more games, I’ll be ready. I felt great running from home to first.”

“I’m at the point where I want to be. Just go out there and play and help the team. With nothing stopping me, I know what I can do.”

Gonzalez is expected to start again on Friday. He will be rested on Wednesday vs. Houston. The Reds are scheduled off on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Yankees hitters haven’t been fooled by fifth starter candidate Nick Masset, who gave up three earned runs and eight hits over four innings with no walks and no strikeouts. Many of the balls were well hit, especially Juan Miranda’s solo homer to right field.

“I felt good today,” Masset said. “It felt like the ball was coming out of my hand well. I felt really loose. I think there were just a few pitches I could have executed better, maybe two or three. That’s really it.”

It was Masset’s second shaky outing in three starts and that couldn’t have helped him as well as Micah Owings and Homer Bailey have pitched.

 

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