April 2009

Winning trip assured

 

Wednesday’s 3-0 win over the Cubs was huge for the Reds. At 6-3 on the trip, it guarantees going home with an above .500 record on the 10-game journey through Milwaukee, Houston and Chicago. Another win on Thursday also means three-straight series wins.

Cueto was sensational with seven scoreless innings and four singles allowed. He had just two Ks but the big key was he didn’t walk anyone and didn’t nibble. He was aggressive and threw 108 pitches overall.

Other moments:

  • Brandon Phillips snapped his 0-for-22 skid with two hits.
  • Cueto was 2-for-2 with a bunt single in the rally that led to the first run in the third.
  • Jay Bruce has homers on back-to-back nights.

Quick turnaround for Thursday as the Reds try for a 7-3 trip and two of three at Wrigley.

Baker on Cueto:

“He pitched outstanding. That’s what we needed too. We got our bullpen straight. That’s what we hoped for in the game.

“He had electric stuff tonight. No walks, that’s the key. He kept the same tempo and same velocity throughout the ballgame. He stopped a very good hitting team over there.”

Weathers:

“We have to do that all year. We’re going to win with pitching and defense. It’s been a long time since this early in the season we’ve seen so few runs and still be winning ballgames. That’s what pitching does. It lets your hitting catch up and we’re going to score runs.”

“I think the good thing about it is nobody is shocked. We expected this out of ourselves. I expect us to come out and take this series tomorrow and have a 7-3 road trip.”

Phillips not cleaning up

The 0-for-21 skid of Brandon Phillips was too glaring not to notice and Dusty Baker made a lineup change for Wednesday. Phillips went from fourth to sixth in the order and switched places with Edwin Encarnacion.

Here is the full Reds lineup:

Taveras, cf
Hairston, lf
Votto, 1b
Encarnacion, 3b
Bruce, rf
Phillips, 2b
Hernandez, c
Gonzalez, ss
Cueto, rhp

“I just want to take a little pressure off of Brandon. We’ve all been there,” Baker said.

On top of that, Phillips came in 1-for-19 lifetime vs. Cubs starter Ted Lilly. Encarnacion is 5-for-18.

“I told him ‘hey, man you start banging again, we’ll move you back up,'” Baker said. “For a couple of days at least here, we’ll go with this.”

Phillips is batting .143 overall while Encarnacion isn’t faring much better, coming in batting .175. But something had to be done to try and mix things up.

Outcome not cat's meow

The Reds didn’t look to good in Tuesday’s 7-2 loss to the Cubs. They’re 5-3 on the road trip with two left to play here.

  • Just five hits for the lineup.
  • Seven walks for the pitching staff.

Micah Owings was charged with five runs, two earned, on five hits with four walks and three strikeouts. He couldn’t escape a three-run fifth, which was doomed by back-to-back one-out walks followed by Chris Dickerson’s error on  Derrek Lee’s drive to the left field warning track.

“Anything else without the wind, that ball is long gone,” Dickerson said. “I tried to do what we’re taught. Get back to the wall and adjust from there. The ball kept dying, dying and dying. When you look up and run into the basket with the wind, it goes with the elements that make Wrigley Field so difficult on days like that. … Nothing can really prepare you for that. There is no Wrigley Field basket at Spring Training where we can practice or wind simulation.”

Two quirky moments came in the fourth.

With Joey Votto batting, a calico cat wandered on to the field and caused a delay in the game. The cat meandered around before a security guard grappled with the cagey feline.

Two batters later as Jay Bruce batted, a foul to left field wasn’t caught by Alfonso Soriano but instead by an eager fan who happened to be sitting in the infamous area Steve Bartman once sat during the 2003 playoffs. Cubs fans’ booing intensified when Bruce used the break to notch an RBI single.

One nice highlight was Bruce’s return from the sore hand. He was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and hit a solo homer to right field in the top of the second.

At this point, what would you consider a positive road trip — 5-5, 6-4 or 7-3? Most teams would accept the 5-5 almost any time but it would be tough to go home that way after the start of this trip. It’d also be a disappointing to not pass an early season test vs. the division favorite Cubs.

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Brrrrrr……(and Bruce is back)

Oh my — what a difference 35 degrees makes. One day after low 70s temperatures and sunny skies in Houston, it’s wet and blustery in Chicago and it’s in the high 30s-low 40s with a sharp breeze. Showers have alternated from drizzle to a hard rain all day and of course the tarp is on the field. Snow is also a possibility in the forecast.

Not exactly baseball weather and I have no idea if this will clear in time to have a game at 8:05 pm ET. I believe the Cubs, who were rained out Sunday and off Monday, wouldn’t want a three-day break.

And I know I don’t want a day-night doubleheader in the future. My prediction is they play, no matter how late they have to start.

Reds lineup:

Taveras, cf
Dickerson, lf
Votto, 1b
Phillips, 2b
Bruce, rf
Encarnacion, 3b
Hernandez, c
Gonzalez, ss
Owings, rhp

Jay Bruce is starting after three days out of the lineup. If he’s on, Cubs starter Rich Harden won’t be much fun to reckon with. Harden has 18 Ks over just nine innings in his two starts.

Brandon Phillips came into tonight on a 0-for-17 skid and 1-for-24. He hit one ball out of the infield in the four-game Houston series. But Phillips refused to call it a slump.

“I’m not having a slump because I’m putting the ball in play,” Phillips said. “I’m not striking out. If I was striking out, then I’d be having a problem. But I’m not. I’m hitting the ball hard and not getting any hits. The way I look at it is as long as we’re winning, I don’t care.”

I’ve noticed concern about the lack of steals the Reds have. They made seven attempts with five steals in 12 games. After some running the first week and a half, there was hardly any in Houston. Why?

“They were really slide-stepping a lot, everybody,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Their [Astros pitchers] times [to home plate] were 1.1 to 1.2 [seconds]. It’s hard to run on, even when you want to run. And then when guys are that quick to the plate and you have Pudge Rodriguez back there that can throw you out, it’s double jeopardy.”

As of 7:20pm ET, the tarp was still on the field. Everyone took BP indoors but played catch outside.

New update: Game is scheduled to start at 8:15 p.m ET 

Confident Redlegs, 5-2 on road trip

There has been a lot of rightful concern about the Reds hitting but no one can complain about the final outcome. Monday’s 4-3 win gave the Reds three of four in the Astros series. Cincinnati, which came in batting a MLB-low .210 cranked out 10 hits during the win.

This was a huge win for April. It means a 5-2 road trip as the Reds head to Chicago for three more games vs. the Cubs. Believe it or not, first place will up for grabs.

“I know it’s early but they all count,” manager Dusty Baker said.

Joey Votto continues to be a clutch hitter, and the lone regular that hasn’t struggled at all. Votto has hit safely in 10 of 12 games and his two-run double to left field that won it just missed being a homer.

“Hopefully, it’s going to be a lot of fun when everybody gets going,” Votto said. “I’m looking forward to it. Until then, we’ll do our best to win these tight games and just hopefully keep beating these teams in the division.”

Bronson Arroyo is the first Reds starter off to a 3-0 start since Mike Remlinger in 1997. Arroyo threw 81 pitches over seven innings and allowed three earned runs on nine hits with no walks and six Ks. He induced 10 groundball outs and two double plays.

“I can not complain, man,” Arroyo said. “I haven’t even felt lights-out but I’ve been getting enough outs, a lot of double play balls and getting runners on a lot and just squeezing out of innings. Fortunate enough, everything has fallen into place for us.”

Arthur Rhodes worked into and out of a tense eighth inning with the bases loaded. Using nine fastballs, including three two-strike fouls, Rhodes got Hunter Pence looking at strike three to end the threat. David Weathers, Mike Lincoln and Jared Burton (all right-handers) stayed in the bullpen while the lefty Rhodes faced the right-handed core of Houston’s lineup.

“We tried to stay away from him because he had a 28-pitch inning last night,” Baker said of Weathers. “Plus, Tejada didn’t hit him very well. Lee is always dangerous but didn’t have many at-bats against him and Pence is usually better against right-handers than left-handers. It was like ‘hey, c’mon Arthur.'”

Let’s be real — you didn’t think the Reds would be 7-5 overall and a half-game out of first place did you?

“We’ll just keep riding the wave. I’ll take it.”

Arroyo will take it, how about you?

Hanigan, Janish in

It looks like Ramon Hernandez and Alex Gonzalez are getting a break today, which is seems like a very good idea. Ryan Hanigan and Paul Janish are in the lineup tonight, as is Darnell McDonald in right field.

Reds lineup:

Taveras, cf
Hairston, lf
Votto, 1b
Phillips, 2b
Encarnacion, 3b
Mcdonald, rf
Hanigan, c
Janish, ss
Arroyo, rhp

  • Jay Bruce is hopeful that he can return to the lineup on Tuesday at Chicago. He was planning on hitting off of a tee today and is scheduled to do some hand strength tests with strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Krause.

“That’s my goal but I can’t say definitely,” Bruce said about Tuesday. “It’s continuing to get better. I’m doing the icing stuff to get it right and get back out there.”

Cold, rainy weather in the Chicago forecast and the Cubs pitching staff aren’t optimal conditions for a return from this type of injury.

“Aches and pains and Harden, Lilly and Zambrano,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I hope so but if not, we’ll go with our other dudes. We don’t want this to be a chronic thing.”

  • With Bronson Arroyo pitching tonight, Hanigan will have caught all three of his starts. Arroyo used to have a personal catcher in David Ross, who eventually moved from a backup to a starting role. Baker said that Hanigan isn’t Arroyo’s personal catcher.

“They work good together plus Arroyo has kind of a different set of signs,” Baker said. “I don’t really like that designated catcher thing but it’s the way things have worked out. Hanny has caught everybody and Ramon has probably caught Arroyo the least by the time he got back to Spring Training.”

  • In blogs and comment sections in MLB.com stories, I’ve read a lot of complaints about Willy Taveras. Although hitting .267, he’s hit safely in six of 10 games. His on-base percentage is .410. That’s about all you can ask from a leadoff hitter.
  • From the Elias Sports Bureau:

Micah Owings has three game-winning RBIs as a pinch-hitter in his Major-League career (two in 2008).  Over the last five seasons (2005-2009), the only other pinch-hit game-winner by a man who makes his living on the mound was by Jason Jennings, for Houston on Aug. 2, 2007.

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Owings: pitcher or batter?

I will go ahead and take an unpopular dissenting opinion. I’m not in favor of turning pitcher Micah Owings into a left fielder. I know he can hit and it isn’t a fluke. In 121 at-bats, he’s batting .322 with five homers, 11 doubles and 21 RBIs. That’s including his huge pinch-hit double that drove in two runs in the seventh inning for a 4-2 Reds win over the Astros on Sunday.

I know the Reds are hitting a MLB-worst .210 right now. With pitching being such a premium in the long run, are you really willing to trash a healthy arm for the extra bat in the short term? Owings has had the benefit of hitting pretty much every five days as a starting pitcher and once in a while as a pinch-hitter. He’s rarely had to grind through every day feeling less than 100 percent. He’s never been mired in a prolonged slump that comes with regular play over 162 games. And he’s never played left field in the Majors. You had zero tolerance for Adam Dunn’s less than stellar defense in left field. What would you do if Owings took a bad route on a fly ball at Great American Ball Park? The answer is you’d jump all over him.

A few years from now when Owings can no longer successfully pitch, whether it’s because of age or injury, then that’s an easy move to groom him for an every day spot at first base or the outfield. But for now, he’s just 26 and I’m still high on his potential as a pitcher. He’s had one start for the Reds. Let him pitch before we change his career for him.

“I just like the opportunity. I enjoy it,” Owings said of hitting. “I had opportunities in high school and college and I can’t say enough about the opportunities I’ve gotten in my pro career so far. Every time I get in there, I’m just going to enjoy it and do the best that I can.”

And of course, Owings knew the question was coming about becoming an every day player.

“I don’t want to go there. I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “I will work on getting ready for Tuesday. I feel like I’ve worked hard and made a lot of strides. The outcome was what any of us wanted the other night. It’s a long season and I have to focus on the next time I get out there and each pitch.”

Everyday is like Sunday

Or in this case, it really is Sunday.

After last night’s two-hit effort and some real struggles of late, I was a little surprised at how similar this lineup is compared to Saturday’s. Only Dickerson is different.

Reds lineup:

Taveras, cf
Dickerson, lf
Votto, 1b
Phillips, 2b
Encarnacion, 3b
Nix, rf
Hernandez, c
Gonzalez, ss
Volquez, rhp
 
Jay Bruce’s (bruised right hand) was doing OK this morning. His handshake was pretty firm so he wasn’t favoring it. But he won’t hit today — just running and throwing. He was available to pinch-run and play defense.

“It’s so much better than it was,” Bruce said. “It didn’t even bother me until the check swing and that was two days ago. When I went for the X-rays and the other stuff yesterday, it was so hard for me to believe it could have been broken. I had played without pain and that one check swing made me feel it.”

Dusty Baker was asked about the hitting woes of his team. The Reds came into today batting .208 as a club. Six players (Phillips, Encarnacion, Hernandez, Gonzalez, Bruce and Hairston) were hitting .200 or under.

“It just means the odds of them hitting increase,” Baker said. “It’s like when a bad hitter is hitting good, his odds increase not to hit. Guys will be around where they usually are, sooner or later.

“The fact that we’re 5-5 without hitting yet, gives me more hope and confidence.”

Adam Rosales, who hit his fourth homer on Saturday, and is batting .387 isn’t an imminent call-up it appears. Baker was asked if Rosales’ hot hitting could spark some more offense.

“It depends if he’s playing but where’s he going to play?” Baker said. “Plus, he’s down there not only to hit but to improve his game. Hitting is only part of the game. There are so many phases of this game, if you’re going to be a major league ballplayer, that you have to try to improve. We just look at hitting sometimes. There’s a lot more to this game to play winning baseball than just hitting. Hitting is the part you notice the most.

“He’s doing what we think is best for him, being down there and playing every day. He will be here eventually. I told him that when he went down there.”

 

Bruce day-to-day

X-Rays taken on Jay Bruce’s sore right hand were negative. Bruce was diagnosed with a moderate bruise and is listed as day-to-day. When asked if Bruce could play on Sunday, manager Dusty Baker said “probably not.”

Some quotes after the 7-0 loss to Houston:

Dusty Baker on Wandy Rodriguez, who threw seven scoreless and struck out 10:

“That’s as good of a curveball as I’ve seen him throw. He could throw it any count at any time. He didn’t hang any. He had a very good miles-per-hour differential between his fastball and his curveball. It was a 15-20 mph difference. Early in the year like that, guys like him give you the blues because you’re not really ready for that adjustment of speed. Not taking anything away from him, he threw a great game.”

Aaron Harang, who vented some frustration in the dugout — knocking over a cooler among other things:

“It’s frustrating when you pitch your heart out all night and don’t get any luck. It’s been a tough year and a half. It’s going to grind on you eventually. Tonight, I got over that boiling point and needed to get some frustration out.”

 

 

Now on Twitter, too.

I’m definitely late in jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, but not nearly as delayed as I was getting a blog started.

If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, here is the link:

http://twitter.com/m_sheldon

Right now, I’m still figuring Twitter out and don’t quite know what to make of it.

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