May 2009

Swept.

What a lousy weekend this turned out to be for the Reds, eh?

Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Brewers was the worst of the last three games because it seemed like the Reds had unlimited chances, especially after Micah Owings settled down from his early bumpy innings. The Reds were 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 men on base.

Cue the collective groan.

Cincinnati came into the weekend feeling their oats and talking about first place. In three games, they dropped from 1 1/2 games out to 3 1/2 games out. In something that didn’t seem as likely a few weeks ago, they’ve dropped six in a row on the road. A four-game sweep of the Cardinals is the only way to get a winning seven-game trip. That’s an awfully tall order.

Second baseman Brandon Phillips still had his swagger after Sunday’s game. He hit his second homer in two games since returning to the lineup (fractured thumb).

“Honestly, it sucks real bad,” Phillips said. “I feel like we’re a better team than the Brewers. They executed better than we did. They did the little things. We didn’t do the little things the last two games. That’s why they won. We just have to learn from this and make sure we don’t take it to St. Louis or it will happen again.”

More Phillips: “We just weren’t the Reds this series. They came here ready because they knew we were ready. They saw us coming right behind them. Somebody had to step their game up. It was either going to be them or be us. It was them. They’re a good team but we’re better.”

Just a few days ago on this blog, I talked about the confidence and optimsm and the club being six games over .500 It seemed like the Reds were on to something different than I’ve seen around here. Let’s face it, they were out of contention by Mother’s Day the last two years.

Personally, I don’t believe this is the beginning of the end of the season. The now 26-23 Reds have prevented long losing streaks and haven’t lost more than four in a row yet. Obviously, Edinson Volquez has a big game facing him right away as he comes off the DL Monday.

This team seems to rally when adversity strikes and coming off Joey Votto’s departure and the Milwaukee sweep, this is yet another test to pass.

Will they pass it this time? Let me hear from you.

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Volquez ready, Encarnacion update

RHP Edinson Volquez is ready to pitch again, really really ready to pitch. Volquez will come off the DL on Monday to start against the Cardinals.

“Oh man, I can’t wait. It’s been two weeks,” Volquez said.

Volquez hasn’t pitched since mid-back spasms had him leave his May 16 start at San Diego. After waiting a few days, he was placed on the DL for the first time in his career. Since then, he’s practically lived in a pool, where’s he done much of his rehab in water.

“No more, I quit,” Volquez said of his pool workouts. “You have to work double. It was my first time on the DL. I didn’t know it would be like that. Early to the ballpark and work more than everybody.”

That’s exactly what manager Dusty Baker had in mind.

“That’s how you want them, tired,” Baker said. “You want guys to refrain from going on the DL. That’s how it was in San Francisco. They worked a lot harder on DL than they did off the DL. If you go on the DL, you have to work.”

Volquez threw a 45-pitch bullpen session on Saturday without any soreness.

A corresponding roster move will come either after Sunday’s game, or be announced on Monday.

3B Edwin Encarnacion is still a ways away from returning to the lineup.

“Edwin is going to at least be a couple of more weeks,” Baker said. “He was hitting .127 when he left so he has to go get some at-bats. I already talked to him about it. I said I’d rather you over ready when you come back than under ready. We can’t and he can’t afford to struggle when you get back.”

Encarnacion hit soft tosses in the cage for the third-straight day and is expected to take batting practice on the field this week in St. Louis. After that, it’s a rehab assignment. Encarnacion has been on the DL April 28 with a chip fracture in his left wrist.

“I never thought it would be this long,” Encarnacion said. “I have to make sure I’m 100 percent when I go back in.”

CF Willy Taveras was out for the second-straight start with a sore right hamstring. Chris Dickerson started in his place. Here is the (late for me to post) lineup.

Dickerson CF
Hairston 3B
Bruce RF
Phillips 2B
Nix LF
Hernandez 1B
Gonzalez SS
Hanigan C
Owings P

Votto to DL, Phillips back

It’s not very stunning that the Reds placed 1B Joey Votto on the 15-day DL, but reason listed was an unexpected twist. His injury has been listed as “stress-related issues,” and not the ongoing inner-ear infection.

The Reds held a closed-door clubhouse meeting after the team bus arrived. Votto is not with the club and it was believed he returned to Cincinnati.

“He’s dealing with a personal issue. He wants us to respect his privacy about that,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

No more details were revealed, at Votto’s request. There was no timetable for a return.

“They weren’t informed about what was wrong,” Baker said of the meeting. “I just told them we have to stick together, even more than ever. Whatever it is, we need to support him. This is like a member of your family. Right now, he needs their support and love and understanding something they might not even understand.”

Apparently, this has less to do with the inner ear infection than originally speculated but again — details are at a minimum.

“It’s partly that. Let’s leave it at that,” general manager Walt Jocketty said. “It’s basically something that Joey needs some time away to deal with. We gave him that time. It’s not a big deal but it’s something that was affecting his ability to play at the level he wants to play at.”

C/IF Wilkin Castillo was recalled from Triple-A Louisville to take Votto’s roster spot. As speculated last night, the Reds don’t have many options on the 40-man roster and since Castillo is primarily a catcher, Ramon Hernandez can move to first base full time. Ryan Hanigan can catch every day and the Reds won’t lose as much offensively in the lineup.

Baker also said that OF Jonny Gomes would start taking groundballs again at first base, where he saw some action at Spring Training. Gomes did not play any at 1B during his time at Louisville.

As Votto exits for a while, 2B Brandon Phillips (fractured right thumb) is back in the starting lineup for the first time in a week. Phillips pinch-hit Friday and bunted into a groundout in the ninth inning.

“One day, we’ll be whole,” Baker said. “These guys have been very resilient. We just have to be more resilient.”

Reds lineup:

Taveras CF Dickerson CF
Hairston 3B
Bruce RF
Phillips 2B
Nix LF
Hernandez 1B
Gonzalez SS
Hanigan C
Harang P

CF Willy Taveras was scratched with a sore right hamstring. Taveras slipped on the outfield grass Friday in the sixth inning on Prince Fielder’s long fly ball. Chris Dickerson started in CF and will lead off.

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Votto departs early

Reds first baseman Joey Votto came out of Friday night’s game vs. the Brewers before the bottom of the second inning. For the third time since May 11, it was because of dizziness related to his inner ear infection.

Catcher Ramon Hernandez moved to first base and Ryan Hanigan took over behind the plate. Votto was 0-for-1 with a pop out to the shortstop.

After the game, a 40-minute closed door meeting was held in Dusty Baker’s office with the manager, GM Walt Jocketty, head trainer Mark Mann and Votto. Media relations director Rob Butcher later entered the room but everyone eventually emerged without saying much.

Votto declined to comment.

“Not right now,” Votto said.

Baker was downright somber when reporters were allowed in the office. He was asked if Votto was OK.

“No , not really,” Baker responded. “He felt similar symptoms that he’s been feeling in the past and just came out.”

Baker did say Votto would not play Saturday but did not know if a roster move was going to be made.

The Reds have some roster issues that make a move tougher. The 40-man roster lacks players hitting well at Triple-A Louisville. Drew Stubbs is playing well but I can’t imagine he’d play much with so many outfielders already here. Wilkin Castillo, hitting all of .196, can be brought back up for catching depth if Hernandez moved to first base regularly without Votto. Bats first baseman Kevin Barker is hitting .234 and is not on the 40-man.

The Reds flew their charter flight on Thursday and air travel can accelerate inner ear infection symptoms. If Votto doesn’t go on the DL, does he go by car to St. Louis?

Are you worried about Votto? What should the Reds do?

Phillips not back, Baker reflects

You can’t likely see it in the pic below, but Brandon Phillips was at second base taking groundballs during Reds batting practice in the latest test for his fractured right thumb. He was also slated to take full BP himself. He was unable to hit or take grounders at home on Wednesday because of rain. If it goes well, I say he’s back in there on Saturday after he’s had a week off.

“The swelling went down a lot since the off day. That’s a good thing,” Phillips said. “Talking to [head trainer] Mark Mann, he thinks the swelling will come back because I’m going to do a lot today. We’ll see how it feels today and go from there. I felt like I could play a long time ago. But I’m not going to do anything stupid.”

millerpark.jpg

Phillips’ thumb remains in a wrap. Apparently, any future he had as a potential hand model are over.

“It looks ugly,” manager Dusty Baker said. “It’s turning colors. It’s been in the water so much.”

“It is ugly,” Phillips agreed. “I won’t kiss it myself.”

7:35 pm ET update: Phillips came through BP with no issues and even hit a couple over the fence. Standing by the cage, he didn’t appear to favor the thumb when he swung…and he was making good contact in general.

Phillips told Baker he could play tonight, if needed.

“Of course, I will feel it,” Phillips said. “It’s all about manning up. If you really want to play, you play through it. That’s how I look at it. Man up or go to the DL. I’m not going to do that because I feel I can play through it. I felt it a lot when I was throwing more than when I was hitting. The more swings I took, the more I started to feel it.”

“I can play through the pain. But I also don’t want to mess up the team.”

Here is Friday’s Reds lineup:

Taveras CF
Hairston 2B
Votto 1B
Hernandez C
Bruce RF
Nix LF
Gonzalez SS
Rosales 3B
Cueto P

The Reds are likely to face right-handed starters in all seven games of this trip, which means it will be tough to get righty hitter Jonny Gomes starts in left field. The lefty-half of the LF platoon, Laynce Nix, didn’t play much last week because the Reds saw four lefties in six games.

“He’ll take extra BP and try to stay as sharp as he can,” Baker said of Gomes. 

Baker was asked some questions about the surprise aspect of his team, and the quality of its depth. The Reds were 26-20 heading into the game tonight and right in the NL Central race with the first-place Cardinals and second-place Brewers and ahead of the favored Cubs.

“You don’t surprise people for very long,” Baker said. “You just go out and play ball. If you surprise some people, fine. If not, no problem. If they give you credit, fine. If they don’t, no problem. Just keep playing. We have more talent and ability than we’ve had here. More young talent, more exuberance, more excitement. Guys take losses harder. We have some good character to this ball club, which is one thing we wanted to do and change.

“The hard things is who do you keep and who do you delete. We’ve got guys here that get along together and like playing together. Guys that are highly competitive against the opposition and competitive against guys on their own team with no envy or jealousy.”

Baker also talked about having success in the long haul, which he wants to be a part of.

“You make decisions in life sometimes,” he reflected. “This is one of the decisions, to bring me here and me coming here, that’s been at the top of the list of my decisions of life. I’m very happy here. I plan on being here. … if they’ll have me for a while.”

I’ve seen a lot of comments, especially in my game stories, that want Baker fired. Yet, the Reds are currently winning and playing like they haven’t over most of my four seasons of covering the team. Why is there a disconnect between fan perception and the on-field performance? Why isn’t the winning making some fans happy?

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Hello, confidence

Not long after his 3-for-4 night with two homers, a triple and four RBIs for a 6-1 Reds win, Jay Bruce personified the Reds’ confidence these days.

“We came in here and took care of business,” Bruce said of the 6-3 home stand that included a sweep of Houston. We’ll go on the road on a roll with some momentum. We plan on coming back in first place.”

Up next: a seven-game road trip vs. the Brewers (three) and Cardinals (four). Cincinnati is in third place in the NL Central, only 1 1/2 games behind first place St. Louis and a half-game behind second-place Milwaukee.

“We have to get after it,” manager Dusty Baker said. “We know it’s going to be tough. They play well in their ballparks. We play well on the road.”

The Reds have every right to feel the swagger they’ve had. They are again a season-high six games over .500 at 26-20. They’ve won four in a row and six of the last eight. They are now over .500 at home at 13-12 and hit the road with a 13-8 away record.

“We’ve played well on the road so far,” Bruce said. “We’ve played these teams tough so far. I always feel confident. We have a great pitching staff. We’re hitting well and hopefuilly Brandon will come back and we’ll keep rolling. It’s been a fun year so far. It’s just getting started.”

I’m no math-lete but I calculated that Bruce is on pace for 49 home runs this season. Right now, he’s batting .241 with 14 homers and 29 RBIs.

What would you consider a successful road trip?

Added question for you: What place do you think the Reds will be in when the trip is over?

See you in Milwaukee. 

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Volquez ready

So…I’m sitting at my usual seat in the GABP press box and looking out at what unfortunately has become a familiar site on the field — the tarp. Yes, it’s raining as I type this at 5:24 p.m. ET. We’re told that the weather will move through and the game will be played. We’ve already slogged through a two-hour, three minute delay on Monday and the 39-minute delay before Tuesday’s game started. Yeesh.

PhotoQ052709Q002.jpgRHP Edinson Volquez (back spasms) had a good bullpen session Wednesday and is on scheduled to come off the DL on Monday. That will also be the day he starts vs. the Cardinals in St. Louis.

“No pain. I feel better and I think I’m ready to go right now,” Volquez said. “Today was my day I would pitch in a game. I wasn’t even counting. I was just throwing like crazy. [Dick Pole] told me afterwards it was 78 pitches. I threw all of my pitches.”

Had there not been rain, 3B Edwin Encarnacion (wrist) would have taken grounders for the first time since going on the DL. Encarnacion is still hitting off of a tee but is planning on taking regular batting practice this weekend when he’s with the team in Milwaukee.

“I never expected it would be this long,” said Encarnacion, who has been out since April 28 with the chip fracture in his left wrist. “This is my second time in a month I’ve had my glove on. The first time was yesterday. That’s never happened before.”

2B Brandon Phillips (thumb) was to take full batting practice. Phillips is still a good bet to be back in the lineup on Friday.

C Ramon Hernandez is getting a break tonight, even though he’s been hitting well.

“I think he needs it bad,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He’ll get two [with Thursday's off day]. He’s beat up pretty good. He’s been playing more than we wanted him to but he’s been so hot with the bat, No. 1. No. 2, we wanted to make sure Hanigan was over with what he’s beat up with. It’s pretty timely.”

Reds lineup:

Taveras CF
Hairston 2B
Votto 1B
Nix LF
Bruce RF
Gonzalez SS
Rosales 3B
Hanigan C
Arroyo P

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Votto.

What else can be said about Joey Votto right now? Another homer while fighting the dizziness and inner ear infection. He was 0-for-3 vs. Roy Oswalt with two Ks but slugged a 1-0 fastball in the seventh from Tim Byrdak into the first row of left field seats for the game-winning two-run homer in a 6-4 Reds win.

“The coaching staff and the training staff probably has been the important part,” Votto said of his ability to play through his issues. “All the doctors that they’ve used have been perfect for me. I definitely couldn’t have done it without their help. Today was probably the first game that I felt pretty good. I have to do it again tomorrow.”

Votto is batting .364 and came in leading the NL in hitting.

“It’s amazing what he’s doing and what he might do,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “I’m just glad we’ve got him.”

Strange days at GABP

This has been one goofy home stand, for sure.

There was the 12-5 blowout vs. Philly on Thursday where the Reds narrowed a 6-0 deficit to 6-5 in before giving up seven more runs. There were Joey Votto’s two homers on Saturday vs. Cleveland that were canceled out by Homer Bailey’s wildness and that was a nearly four-hour game. There were extra innings on Sunday, with the weird obstruction call on Adam Rosales in the seventh that tied the game and put the kibosh on a potential victory for Johnny Cueto.
Then there was the two-hour, three minute rain delay with two outs in the Houston fourth inning on Monday. Starter Aaron Harang waited long enough to get one out to qualify for a victory.

Somehow through it all, the Reds have won three of their last four.

Roy Oswalt is on the mound for the Astros on Tuesday. In case you haven’t seen this stat paraded around endlessly, Oswalt is 23-1 lifetime vs. them. He hasn’t taken the loss vs. Cincinnati since April 28, 2006. Against them in 2009, he has two no-decisions but a 0.69 ERA. Strangely, Oswalt is only 1-2 through 10 games this season.

Votto is back in the lineup today. How long can the Reds go with Votto and Brandon Phillips either out or at less than 100 percent?

If Votto is still bothered by the dizziness and hit two homers like he did Saturday, what will he do when the inner ear infection is finally behind him for good?

Are you worried about Jay Bruce, who enters today in a 0-for-13 funk? I wrote about Bruce on May 20 and how he was trying to be more patient at the plate. But he still keeps swinging at bad pitches (36 Ks in 158 ABs).

Reds lineup:

Dickerson CF
Hairston 2B
Votto 1B
Hernandez C
Bruce RF
Nix LF
Gonzalez SS
Rosales 3B
Owings P

In a shameless plug for myself, check out this article about Micah Owings and other NL pitchers that are very good hitters.

Additional news from the clubhouse:

  • Phillips hit some balls off the tee again today and also hit some underhand tosses. So far, so good. All signs are pointing to a return to the lineup on Friday at Milwaukee. There was a chance he could pinch-hit the next two games.

“He felt pretty good,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He’s having a little trouble throwing. He let it hang out pretty good they told me. He only felt it on a couple of swings.”

If and when Phillips does come back, he won’t be given any limitations.

“The doctor said he can’t do any more damage to it unless something insane happens,” Baker said. “Which is out of your control anyway.”

“It feels the same but the pills are working,” Phillips said. “I don’t know what I’m taking but they’re working.”

  • This is how Baker is handling the unpredictable nature of Votto’s dizziness and inner ear infection:

“He’s getting better but it’s still a day-to-day thing,” Baker said. “I check with him, check with the trainers. We’re doing the honor system thing.”

  • Harang feels OK the day after his unusual five-inning win on Monday.

“I think there have been times I’ve been more sore after a regular start than that one.”

  • Edinson Volquez has another bullpen session scheduled for Wednesday. Volquez threw “nice and easy” in the bullpen Monday and played catch on the field Tuesday.
  • RHP Nick Masset was activated from the 15-day DL as expected. To make room on the 25-man roster, C/IF Wilkin Castillo was optioned to Triple-A Louisville.
  • CF Willy Taveras was just given the day off. Taveras has struggled some since his 14-game hitting streak ended in San Diego.

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Harang waits out a win

It seemed unheard of in modern baseball these days. In a stunner on Sunday, the Reds sent starter Aaron Harang back out to pitch after a fifth-inning rain delay so he could notch one more out and qualify for a victory.

No matter how well he’s doing, a starting pitcher will usually be pulled from the game if there’s a lengthy rain delay. And today’s two-hour and three minute delay certainly qualified as lengthy. It also stopped action one out from an official game in the fifth inning when the Reds were leading 6-3.

“Harang, working on two hours rest…” joked a press box wag.

Harang was at 81 pitches before the stoppage. After play resumed, he faced two more batters and gave up a single before getting that final out on a Humberto Quintero strikeout to finish at 93 pitches. In five innings, Harang gave up three earned runs and 10 hits with one walk and four strikeouts. The Reds won the game 8-5.

“We were going to give him two hitters,” manager Dusty Baker said. “If he couldn’t get it done in two hitters, then we’d go to somebody else. With the hard luck Aaron had last year, you had to give him a chance to win that game.”

Harang, who is 5-4 with a 3.36 ERA, stayed loose indoors by throwing simulated innings in the batting cage.

“I went in there and told them I’m going to get this out,” Harang said. “It doesn’t matter to me how long I have to sit here and toss. I just tried to stay loose and stay active. The third or fourth time I warmed up, it was getting kind of dicey. They were getting a little antsy to decide what was going on.”

What did you think of the decision to send Harang back out? Gritty and old school competitor, or too risky for an injury even with the indoor throwing? How will this move go over, especially if he doesn’t do well in his next start?

Discuss.

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