April 2009

Talking to Keppinger

I ventured over to the Astros clubhouse to see former Red Jeff Keppinger and was fortunate to find him within about five minutes. For the second night in a row, Keppinger wasn’t in the lineup because of a sore back caused by a slide into third base for a triple.

I’ve noticed a lot of Reds fans were upset (and still are upset) about the Reds trading Keppinger on March 31. Personally, I think it was a good move by Cincinnati, especially since it looks like they got a better than I expected return in IF Drew Sutton. Keppinger had a nice second half of 2007 and a great start to 2008, but I think fans placed too much value on him. He wasn’t the same offensively after fracturing his kneecap last May. Defensively, he lacked the range at shortstop compared to the guy who beat him out for the backup job — Paul Janish.

Of course, Keppinger is off to a hot start with a six-game hitting streak and is batting .467. I’m sure he will do well for Houston in his platoon role at third base. Here are some extended quotes from the clubhouse:

When did he turn it around since Reds camp?

“Season time. Spring Training is Spring Training. It was a time to get ready. You can’t really go too much on that. Once the lights come on, it’s when it counts. That’s when you have to have everything figured out.”

Did he feel that the Reds gave up on him because of Spring Training? (He hit .140 in 21 games)

“I don’t want to say gave up on me. I think they thought Gonzo [Alex Gonzalez] would be back and in there most of the time. There weren’t much plans for me of getting in there as far as playing time. I had that same situation when I was with the Royals. They were going to put me on waivers. The GM told me I don’t think you’re going to clear. So the next thing I knew I got traded three days later.”

Life good with Houston?

“It’s nice. We’ve got a lot of veterans in the clubhouse. It’s kind of a more laid back atmosphere. You just go out there and do your business and play your game.”

It's dry under the roof

Good afternoon from soggy Houston, where it’s been raining cats and dogs all day. Severe thunderstorm warnings are abound and as I’ve seen here in the past, the drainage stinks and roads and sidewalks are flooding a little.

Thankfully the game shouldn’t be affected one iota under the roof here at Minute Maid Park.

Reds lineup:

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

Jay Bruce was scratched two hours before game time because of a sore right hand. He was hit on the hand by Yovani Gallardo on Monday at Milwaukee and it’s still swollen. Bruce went for X-rays and we’re awaiting word. Apparently he might have tweaked the hand on a check swing last night. He told the Reds he had been pain free the prior three days.

Here is a note regarding Friday night’s game, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau:

The Reds trailed the Astros, 1-0, going into the top of the ninth inning but Ramon Hernandez hit a two-run homer that gave Cincinnati a 2-1 victory.  It was the third time in the last 21 seasons that the Reds won a game in the ninth inning after trailing and being shut out at the end of the eighth inning, and all three were played in Houston.  The others were in April 1989 and May 1993.

 

Turned on a dime

The Reds seemed headed to what would have been the most painful loss of the year — a 1-0 defeat to Roy Oswalt because of a bases-loaded walk from Johnny Cueto in the fifth. That all changed in the top of the ninth when Ramon Hernandez hit a 1-2 Jose Valverde fastball into the first row of right field seats for a 2-1 Reds win.

Some quotes:

Dusty Baker on Cueto – who was strong early but walked six in 4 2/3 innings. His walk to Oswalt with two outs and no one on started the Astros rally.

“Cueto was matching him and pitching better but lost it with some near strikes in the fourth and fifth innings.”

“That was huge. That was real big. That’s prime evidence how walks will hurt you. It hurt us with Cueto and it hit hurt them walking Edwin.”

Baker again:

“That would have been a real tough loss, especially since they really didn’t deserve to win it. But they were winning. Especially when you walk in the only run and it’s 1-0 against a tough Roy Oswalt.”

Ramon Hernandez:

“I was lucky that ball got out. I was just trying to have a good at-bat and trying to get a single so I could get the inning going.”

“When I hit it, I just took off running just in case it hit the wall. We were losing 1-0 so I wasn’t sure.”

Mike Lincoln on the bullpen which pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings:

“Each guy came in and did his job. That’s what we have to do down there. The bullpen is pretty tight. We have a really good group of guys down there and it feels like we could put any guy in any situation.”

Taking on Oswalt

Roy Oswalt enters Friday 0-2 with a 6.23 ERA this season. He is 23-1 all time vs. the Reds. Here is the lineup Oswalt will be facing:

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

News you can use:

  • Dusty Baker got a scouting report on IF Drew Sutton, who came over Thursday in the Jeff Keppinger trade.

“I talked to some guys over with the Astros,” Baker said. “They told me they liked him. They said he was a good player. He can run. They said he can play second base, first base and they believe he can play the outfield too because of his speed and instincts.”

  • Keppinger wasn’t in Friday’s Astros lineup and is one of several Houston players bothered by a sore back. He came into the day hitting .467 with a six-game hitting streak. Knowing a little more about Sutton as the “player to be named later”, how do you feel about the return from this deal?
  • Baker was asked about the Reds facing Oswalt.

“We’ll get him,” Baker said. “The law of averages is definitely on our side…been on our side for a long time.”

The last time the Reds beat Oswalt was April 28, 2006.

  • After his last outing at Milwaukee on Wednesday where he gave up four sixth-inning runs, plus one charged to Micah Owings, reliever Jared Burton was pretty down and sounded like someone who had been struggling for a while despite some good numbers. On Friday, Burton clarified a little but said he hasn’t felt like himself on the mound, yet.

“For some reason, my command has been suffering a little bit,” Burton said. “I find myself feeling for my pitches. Me personally, I’m not a feel pitcher. I like to rely on my intensity and things like that. It’s what gives me that good finish on my pitches, that late movement.

“My velocity isn’t where it will be in another month.”

  • In the clubhouse, some players were watching the Cardinals-Cubs afternoon game. Reliever Chris Perez was pitching for St. Louis. Edinson Volquez remembered seeing Perez routinely throw 100-101 mph when they were in Double-A.

When asked, Volquez said his top speed in the Minors was 100 mph. I asked how he felt when he threw it.

“I got dizzy,” Volquez said with a laugh. “Then I tried to throw 100 again, and it was 94 mph.”

  • Some Minor League news from Jamie Ramsey of the Reds:

In last night’s Triple-A Louisville loss to Indianapolis, Adam Rosales was 2-for-4 and hit his third homer of the season. Jonny Gomes reached base three times with a single and two walks.

Rosales is batting .375 (9-for-24) through seven games. Gomes is batting .217 (5-for-23). 

Keppinger deal completed, Bray's elbow

The March trade that sent infielder Jeff Keppinger to the Astros was completed on Thursday when the Reds received infielder Drew Sutton as the player to be named.

Sutton, 25, will report to Triple-A Louisville. To make room for him on the 40-man roster, Danny Richar was sent outright to Louisville.

Last season with Double-A Corpus Christi, Sutton batted .317 with 20 home runs and 69 RBIs and was his team’s Most Valuable Player. He led all Astros Minor Leaguers in batting average, hits (165), runs (102), walks (76), doubles (39) and extra-base hits (63).

With Triple-A Round Rock, Sutton was batting .267 (4-for-15) with a .389 on-base percentage in five games.

  • Reliever Bill Bray has been saddled with another injury. Bray was diagnosed with a strained left elbow after an exam by Dr. Tim Kremchek, according to the Reds. The lefty will be evaluated in 10 days.

Shoulder soreness set Bray back during Spring Training and he didn’t catch up in time to make the team. He had five scoreless innings over three games for Triple-A Louisville.

Off day musings

Greetings from downtown Houston where I’m getting my bearings after landing on my flight from Milwaukee. Since I’m supposed to be “off” today, I will pose a few questions to you and hope you respond. Go ahead and sign in so you can comment. I know it’s an extra step but it really doesn’t hurt, trust me.

The Reds are 4-4 after eight games. Are you happy with that?

What’s your biggest surprise and disappointment?

Has anything you’ve seen encouraged or discouraged you about the bulk of the season ahead?

I know that’s a lot to ask for when only eight games have been played.

Some early trends:

The Reds offense is ranked 16th out of 16 NL teams with a .222 team average.

The Reds are fourth in walks with 40 and eighth in team OBP with .333. They are 12th in runs scored.

Joey Votto is hitting very well (.387, 2 HR, 10 RBI, .457 OBP) and Willy Taveras has done a good job of getting on base (.462 OBP) and creating some havoc. Edwin Encarnacion (eight walks) and Brandon Phillips (seven walks) are getting on base a lot. Jay Bruce and Alex Gonzalez haven’t looked good at the plate.

The focus of my off-day story is pitching, namely the rotation. Although counted on to be the biggest strength of the team, it has yet to get into a groove. There have been just two quality starts. It has pitched five innings or fewer four times and into the seventh twice. It came into Thursday ranked 10th out of 16 National League teams with a 4.82 ERA, eighth with 46 2/3 innings pitched and ninth in strikeouts with 37. The staff’s overall ERA is 5.32, also ranked 10th.

Only Aaron Harang has had two decent outings and Bronson Arroyo has had one. Edinson Volquez hasn’t looked good and Johnny Cueto and Micah Owings have had one uneven outing each.

Lastly, the Reds are facing Astros main nemesis Roy Oswalt on Friday. I would love to be a fly on the wall during the coaching staff’s meeting with the advance scout about to handle Oswalt. In 28 games vs. the Reds, including 26 starts, Oswalt is 23-1 with a 2.47 ERA lifetime and was 4-0 last season. How do you like the Reds’ chances with Cueto?

Discuss, please.

No sweep.

The Reds had to settle for a 2-1 start to the 10-game road trip after they dropped a 9-3 game to Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Although he wouldn’t use it as a cop out, Micah Owings seemed rusty — especially early on. He threw 89 pitches in five-plus innings with 47 strikes/42 balls. Owings gave up four earned runs and five hits with two walks and two strikeouts. He was up to 60 pitches through three innings.

Owings quotes:

“I felt like as the game went on I got a little sharper. Definitely wasn’t results you’d like to get. There are a couple of things I can work on going into the next one and get ready to go.”

Rust?

“The last thing I’m going to do is make some excuses. I felt pretty good. I felt like we were right there in the game. That’s all we can ask for.”

It was a 3-3 game after Chris Dickerson’s first homer, a two-run shot. But the Brewers pulled away. It was an off night for reliever Jared Burton, who gave up four runs and three hits, including Rickie Weeks’ two-run homer in the four-run Brewers sixth

“I’m just having trouble with the feel of some of my pitches right now,” Burton said. “I’m in one of those funks everyone goes through unfortunately and I look at my stuff on film and it’s just not there right now. I’m not finishing my pitches which is what happens when you’re feeling for everything instead of trusting your stuff and letting it go. The results aren’t there right now.”

Offensively: Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce combined to go 0-for-11.

On the positive side, Alex Gonzalez finally snapped an 0-for-17 skid with a RBI double to right-center field in the fifth, which got the Reds on the scoreboard vs. Braden Looper.

“Nobody is real happy about that right now because we had a chance to sweep,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Now we have to go to Houston and start a new winning streak.”

OK, Baker is expectedly unhappy. How do you feel about the Reds taking two of three in Milwaukee?

Up next after the Thursday off day, Houston.

Everyone wearing No. 42

It’s Jackie Robinson Day around Major League Baseball — the 62nd anniversary of his breaking of the color barrier. Every team’s players and coaches are wearing No. 42 to honor Robinson, including the Reds and Brewers.

Jerry Hairston Jr.’s grandfather, Sam, was a Negro Leagues player and the first African American to play for the White Sox.

“It’s significant for me,” Hairston said. “It just shows it was that time period not too long ago where people of different skin color didn’t have the opportunity to play this game. We have come a long way. I’m glad Major League Baseball is recognizing it.”

Dusty Baker never got to meet Robinson but has long admired him.

“As a kid, most African Americans were Dodger fans because of Jackie Robinson, including my Dad,” Baker said. “When I transferred my junior year, there were only two blacks in the school, me and my brother. I was fighting quite a bit and my Dad would always remind me and I heard these words all the time, ‘what would Jackie do?’

“Actually, I played four sports in high school because of Bobby Bonds and Jackie Robinson. I’d go run track in what was left over after a baseball game.”

“He had quite an influence in my family.”

News you can use:

  • Laynce Nix has hit doubles in each of his last two pinch-hit appearances. His RBI double in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s win was big for insurance runs. Like many on the Reds bench, Nix doesn’t have a lot of pinch-hitting experience.

“This is something we’ve talked to our guys about. Most of our guys have never been in that role,” Baker said. “McDonald, Nix and Dickerson in particular. You talk to them extensively about how to pinch hit, how to approach pinch-hitting. I was very fortunate to have some live background experience to share.”

Baker played with pinch-hitting specialists like Manny Mota, Jay Johnstone and Lee Lacy with the Dodgers. He managed Lenny Harris with the Cubs.

“I know I can ask Dusty any questions as far as that role,” Nix said. “He’s told us he’s been around the best. We’ve had some good meetings about it and talked about it a little and it’s been real helpful.”

  • Willy Taveras entered the night with a .409 OBP and his reaching safely is helping Reds hitters as opposing pitchers get distracted with him on base. Pitchers like Manny Parra last night are slidestepping a lot and showing less control.

“They know I’m going to run and that means our guys will get a lot of fastballs. These guys drive in a lot of runs and I want to be on base when we score those runs. So far we look good.”

 

'I'm not perfect but parts of me are incredible.'

I actually saw that phrase on a bumper sticker on the back of a car in downtown Milwaukee today and I was driving to Miller Park. I’ve never quoted a bumper sticker before and I might never again, but thought it was pretty fitting, and timely, to have seen that today.

Karma bit me a little last night like a character on TV’s “My Name is Earl.”

In the second inning while on radio with Marty Brennaman, I brought up FS Ohio inadvertently switching off Monday’s game in the ninth inning and made some good natured jokes. Then it happened to WLW and Marty and Jeff Brantley went off the air at  around the same time as FS Ohio did on Monday — the bottom of the ninth inning. Oops.

I had my own self-created mess last night, too. I usually file my first version of a game story in the eighth inning — just a few paragraphs to get something up quick upon the last out. When I emailed it in last night, the Reds were up 3-1 and Francisco Cordero was warming in the bullpen.I wrote that Cordero pitched the ninth and earned his third save. 

By the time the game ended, the Reds won 6-1 and Mike Lincoln finished since it wasn’t a save situation. Unfortunately, the incorrect information was still posted and I caught some heat in the story’s comments section. The story was only up for probably an hour but you noticed and let me have it.

To make matters worse in the final version, I wrote that Bronson Arroyo pitched on Wednesday rather than Tuesday. That’s totally on me. Please realize the mistakes aren’t intended under the heat of deadline and I apologize.

Let’s move on…

Reds lineup:

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

Brewers lineup:

Weeks, 2b
Hart, rf
Braun, lf
Fielder, 1b
Hardy, ss
Cameron, cf
Hall, 3b
Kendall, c
Looper, rhp

Three in a row

The Reds are above .500 for the first time in 2009 and earned their 4-3 record with a 6-1 win over the Brewers. That’s a three-game winning streak and they can leave town with a series sweep if they win tomorrow.

The key to the game was a strong pitching effort by Bronson Arroyo, who gave up one run and four hits over 6 1/3 innings. I think we can say his carpal tunnel issue is behind Arroyo. Although he had four walks, he was changing speed pretty well and Milwaukee didn’t look too comfortable against him.Jerry Hairston Jr.’s first homer of the season snapped a 1-1 tie in the third inning and was the go-ahead score.

Willy Taveras was solid at reaching the bases, doing so in three of his five plate appearances. Taveras drew two walks and singled. He also swiped two bases. His OBP thus far is .409 —  that’s more than pretty good. Taveras was on base when Hairston went deep.

In the eighth, David Weathers notched his 900th career appearance and became just the 20th pitcher in Major League history reach that plateau. Weathers faced two batters and got them both out.

Post-game quotes:

Hairston on his homer off a 2-2 changeup from Manny Parra:

“He left it up a little bit and I was able to put a good swing on it and fortunately, it barely got out.”

Arroyo:

“I can’t be any happier with the results. Going out there and still feeling a little bit uncomfortable. I haven’t been in my normal routine in a while. It’s coming around and I’m just happy to be 2-0 with no feeling like I’m totally dialed in yet.”

“My arm felt good. My hand felt good. I felt like I had at least the same fastball in the seventh inning as I had the first. Last time out, I definitely did not have that.”

Baker:

“The guys are feeling pretty good, feeling very confident and playing better baseball. We just have to keep it rolling.”

on taking out Arroyo:

“When I took him out, he said he was spent. You could tell when he scuttled those four balls in there. Our bullpen came in and did a great job.”

 

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