February 2010

Sunday morning notes

A nice little rain storm last night moved in and it’s still pretty damp in Goodyear. Workouts could be abbreviated somewhat as a result. Still not sure.

Some news came out of the reporter’s session with manager Dusty Baker. Among the highlights:

*Fifth starter candidate Mike Lincoln will start the first Cactus League game on Friday vs. the Indians.

“We want to see how he handles having time to prepare and think about it and warm up as a starter,” Baker said. “He knows how to warm up as a reliever.”

Lincoln believed his last start was in 2001 in Triple-A for the Pirates. His last big league start was in 2000 for the Twins.

“I enjoy having a routine,” Lincoln said. “Coming out of the ‘pen, you never know. You might throw one day and then throw four days in a row. A starter throws every fifth day. It would be nice.”

*Baker confirmed what seemed likely. Brandon Phillips will bat cleanup for him again this season.
 

“He’s the best selection I’ve got,” Baker said. “He has power and speed. Especially now that he’s learned to be an RBI man. I like Rolen in the fifth spot more than the fourth spot. He might getter pitches to hit because Brandon might steal.”

In fact, much of the lineup seems rather set. Stubbs or Dickerson will leadoff, followed by Cabrera, Votto, Phillips, Rolen and Bruce. So that’s 2-6 locked up for sure.

*Speaking of Dickerson, he was in the manager’s office for a little chat. Dickerson’s comments lately about wanting to compete for center field were addressed for sure.

“It’s OK. I handled it. No worries,” Baker said. “My whole thing is if you’ve got a beef, come to me.”

*Finally — pitcher Micah Owings was sent home sick on Saturday and isn’t back in camp on Sunday.

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Dickerson talks, Baker responds

The Reds pretty much view that Drew Stubbs has the inside track on center field and it’s his job to lose. But the other day, Chris Dickerson made it known he didn’t like being overlooked.

“I’m not trying to make this as a stab at the general audience, I don’t understand how I get written off,” Dickerson told CNati.com. “Drew’s a great player, but you know, when I was in center, I don’t remember a whole lot of balls falling out there. Everyone’s wanting to put me in left, that’s OK with me, I’m comfortable in all three positions.”

Dickerson is a natural center field and it’s his best position.

On Saturday, manager Dusty Baker’s view was pretty clear about the situation.

“You can be disappointed all you want to. But he allowed Stubbs to get his foot in the door,” Baker said. “[It was] via performance and injuries. It happens. Sometimes you have to wait for your next opportunity.”

Among other contrasts, Baker also pointed out that Stubbs hit eight homers in 180 at-bats and Dickerson hit two in 255 at-bats.

“Reality is reality,” Baker said. [Dickerson] was disappointed he wasn’t playing against lefties but hey man, I’ve got a guy that’s pretty good hitting against lefties in Jonny Gomes.”

Dickerson was better at reaching base. His OBP was .370 compared to .323 for Stubbs. Dickerson also had 13 doubles and three triples. He also missed significant time with two trips to the DL.

“I told Dick last year the reason I’m platooning you is try and keep you healthy, which still didn’t work,” Baker said. “Nobody said he wasn’t in the running. Maybe he feels that. You have to re-establish yourself.”

On Saturday, Dickerson was more diplomatic in talking about his versatility being a positive but hadn’t altered his opinion very much. He would like a shot at center field.

“I don’t think there’s any reason why I shouldn’t be able to play center field,” he said. “I’ve done a great job in center field. Many people don’t know that’s where I played until I came up. I was one of the top defensive center fielders. Like Stubbs, he was the best defensive outfielder in the system like I was the previous three years. My premiere position was center field. I proved I can play center field at the Major League level and be a good one at that.”

**The Reds held a public workout/fanfest at Goodyear Ballpark. A few hundred fans came out as the Reds did some throwing and performed infield practice.

“I like it. It looks great,” infielder Todd Frazier said of the facility. “I can get used to something like this for sure.”

I talked to one Ohio native that drove all the way from Palm Springs, Calif. to see the workout. It was a 3 1/2 hour trip one way.

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Good days for Cueto, Heisey

The second wave of live batting practice went down on Thursday.

Johnny Cueto broke a couple of bats and I don’t think anyone did anything spectacular against him. It was good for the Reds to see Cueto that sharp considering he was not allowed to pitch in winter ball.

heisey.jpgHomer Bailey was bringing some heat and came in hard and brushed Paul Janish’s windbreaker chest high. He was fine but Janish’s eyes were opened a little wider as he gathered himself.

Chris Heisey (pictured, left) had the most success as a hitter. Heisey homered twice against Francisco Cordero and did likewise against Aaron Harang.

“They’re out there trying to work on things and I was trying to put some wood on the ball,” Heisey said. “I don’t take any stock in it. it’s better than swinging and missing 10 times. I’m not going to call my whole family tonight and tell them.”

Heisey said he didn’t even remember how many long balls he hit.

Before live BP, everyone took pop fly drills. Louisville manager Rick Sweet put a ball in a machine and sent them way up. The high sky and bright sun made it adventurous. At least there was no wind.

Guys had trouble tracking the pop ups and there was the occassional miss or two players getting a little two close converging on the same ball.

There was one casualty from the session. Infielder Chris Burke, a non-roster invite, suffered a dislocated right ring finger when a ball kicked off of it. X-ray showed a small fracture. He will be re-examined in a couple of days after the swelling goes down.

 

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Thursday morning notes

The players had their annual closed-door meeting with MLB security this morning, which limited the access a little. But workouts are scheduled to begin shortly and on schedule.

Fifth starter candidate Travis Wood had a nice situation during his off-season workouts in Arkansas. He got to train with fellow lefty Cliff Lee, who lives only a few miles away. Lee starred for the Indians and Phillies last season and is now with the Mariners.

“He’s a great, a good mentor and a great guy,” Wood said. “It was nice to have somebody of his stature to workout with and pick his brain. He’s a soft spoken guy. If you talk to him, he’ll carry on a conversation like he’s your best friend. He likes to keep things pretty low key and mellow.”

*Each spring, the Reds video crew will shoot young players for “down on the farm” segments that are shown between innings at Great American Ball Park. The videos are for the fans but someone else apparently has been watching — Dusty Baker.

“I remember all of those guys’ things,” Baker said. “It’s interesting to hear kids’ evaluation of themselves. [Pitcher] Sam LeCure, I found his interesting. They asked him about his best repertoire of pitchers and he said the best pitch in baseball was a well-located fastball. That’s how I was taught.

“I heard one guy say ‘I’m a good outfielder and I’ve got speed’ and never once mention hitting. I asked that young man why? You don’t think you’re a good hitter. You mentioned everything but the No. 1 thing. I guess you’re going to be a bench player.”

Baker has just given the younger players one more thing to be worried about as they try to impress their way up the system.

“I don’t look for stuff. I just don’t miss much,” the manager said.

*The temperatures are headed back into the 70s today as pitchers do another session of live BP. If history is any guide, it appears that the desert weather is going cause some issues for pitchers this spring.

“The pitchers are really going to have to be patient with their breaking balls,” Baker said. “They don’t tend to break as well down here in his dry air and lack of humidity. The balls are chalkier and slicker because of the lack of humidity. Guys that haven’t been here before commented on it. it makes it a little tougher to judge pitchers here than in Florida.

“It’s easier to hit here generally. High sky, hard surface, big wide fields. The fields are a lot larger than normal to offset the way a ball carries.  It’s a little tougher to judge a sinkerball pitcher.

“It’s going to get smoking. Those infields – you can’t water them every inning – you’re going to think you’re on highway 10 out there. It’s hard to judge sinkerballers because balls will get through that don’t normally get through. It’s hard to judge fly ball pitchers because the ball carries tremendously. You’ll probably see some pretty high batting averages and high ERAs. You have to take that into consideration when you’re evaluating somebody, offensively or defensively.”

*Homer Bailey, Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Nick Masset and Francisco Cordero are among those who throw live BP today.

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Yes — other pitchers threw too

With all of the hoopla about Aroldis Chapman, you might have wondered if anyone else pitched on Wednesday. They certainly did.

On the field I was watching, I saw Carlos Fisher, Jordan Smith, Logan Ondrusek, Phillipe Valiquette and Pedro Viola. On the other field included Mike Leake, Sam LeCure, Matt Maloney. I heard that Jonny Gomes took Leake deep with a homer. But I don’t believe anyone else left the field with one.

Ondrusek is listed as 6-foot-8 but looks much taller in person and was definitely more imposing from the mound. I had never seen Valiquette before — he was a very hard-throwing lefty pitcher.

“I like the fact that everybody was around the plate,” pitching coach Bryan Price said. “These guys showed up to compete for jobs on the team. That’s been very apparent from the first workout. Guys seem to have an idea that they need to come in commanding their stuff with their arms in good shape. They’ve done that instead of trying to impress by overthrowing or doing things that get you into trouble. This is a pretty polished group.”

Like mentioned in the previous post, Price had pitchers not use a screen. He didn’t want them to get into a bad habit by changing delivery to drop behind it. It only became an issue once when Chris Heisey hit a screamer off of Smith’s leg. Smith was able to continue pitching.

Among the other hitters I watched — Todd Frazier, Juan Francisco and Yonder Alonso. It’s hard to gauge how they did. They really were at a disadvantage so early in camp. Some had some good hits, including Alonso that last few swings in the cage. 

One other quirky moment happened during fielding drills. On a bunt play with Chapman on the mound, the catched yelled “three” meaning Chapman was supposed to throw to third base. But with the language barrier, he didn’t understand. He was told three meant “tres” and got the play right on the next try.

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Chapman pitches, hitters guess

Aroldis Chapman faced five hitters for about 10 minutes worth of pitching in his session of live batting practice on Wednesday. By my count, he threw 32 pitches to Chris Burke, Chris Valaika, Chris Heisey, Yonder Alonso and Corky Miller.

Only one hitter — Heisey — made solid contact and that was one time.

“I haven’t thrown to a hitter in about eight months. I felt really good,” Chapman said through interpreter Tony Fossas. “I threw the ball very efficiently. I thought I had control and command of my pitches.”

Batters were talking to each other trying to figure out what they were seeing. After seeing Chapman’s changeup on his third overall pitch to Burke, people around the cage were heard going ‘oooh.’

For all of the talk about Chapman’s 100 mph velocity after his signing, it was his slider and changeup that had people in the cage talking, and guessing.

“That’s a nice little repertoire. Somebody should sign this kid,” Burke said after leaving the cage.

“I never really had a slider or changeup,” Chapman said. “The changeup is the pitch that wasn’t efficient and didn’t throw much. Since I got here, I’ve been working really hard on it and those are pitches I will be able to use.”

The session reminded me of the first time Johnny Cueto pitched live BP at camp. He showed good stuff right away and was an unknown entity. By the time spring was over, Cueto was in the rotation and essentially skipped Triple-A. (He did have four starts at Louisville the previous year).

“Chapman was very good,” general manager Walt Jocketty said. “With hitters in there, he was very comfortable and threw good pitches. He threw a lot of strikes. He threw a really good changeup. All in all, it was a good day.

“The slider was pretty nasty. Very nice. It will be fun to see how this progresses. There’s a lot of competition for that rotation.”

Wilkin Castillo, who speaks Spanish, was Chapman’s catcher this time. He called all of the pitches and wasn’t shaken off once.

“His slider was 85-88 mph and breaking a lot. It was pretty nice,” Castillo said. “His fastball? Oh my God, it was 98-99 mph and strikes, down and in.”

One other thing to keep in mind: Pitching coach Bryan Price had pitchers not use the “L” screen in front of the mound and not tell hitters what was coming. That’s not often the case in the first live BP. So hitters were really had a disadvantage on their second day of camp against all pitchers.

Chapman will pitch again on Saturday.

Here is what others had to say about Chapman –

Burke:

“Obviously, it’s dominating stuff. If he’s going to keep the ball down like that and get ahead in counts, what can you really do? As a hitter, you have to be ready to hit the fastball. It’s going to give him so much leeway with the slider and changeup.”

“If he can command the ball down in the zone like he did today, sky’s the limit for him potentially.”

“It’s a lot like Randy [Johnson] was. When Randy could really command his fastball, what could you really do? You just hoped you ran into one. His slider to me was comparable. It was sharp and came out of the same arm slot. If he can get it in like that, as a right-handed hitter, the best you can do is hope to hit a groundball hopefully through the left side.”

“First impressions were great. I was surprised with how well he seemed to be in command of his stuff.”

“I’ve been playing long enough to know a special guy. You don’t need a radar gun to see when the ball is getting there. The ball was getting there. He’s got a little herky-jerky to him, which is good from a pitching standpoint. It’s makes us even more uncomfortable.”

Alonso:

“I didn’t feel that bad just because I know him. He’s my boy. I told him this morning that ‘if by any chance I have to face you, just don’t hit me.’ Whoever doesn’t know him, God bless, because it’s rough.”

Pitching coach Bryan Price:

“It was terrific. He was in the zone with all three of his pitches. I thought he was sharper against hitters than he was in the bullpen.”

“These guys have seen guys that throw hard. It’s when you get a combination of a guy that’s a hard thrower that can command a finesse pitch like a changeup and has a power breaking ball. That puts you at a big disadvantage when he’s got three choices, even when he’s behind in the count. Today, he could have pitched with any of those pitches behind in the count.”

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Live BP, Chapman

Petty soon, the Reds will be holding their first edition of live batting practice. Their pitchers will throw to their own hitters/teammates.

“It’s probably one of the most unfair days there are in baseball because the pitchers are far ahead of the hitters,” Dusty Baker said. “This is mostly for the pitchers.”

At to that — Some guys might have their hands full with Aroldis Chapman, who is throwing in the session. If the board was read correctly, Chapman will face Yonder Alonso, Chris Heisey, Chris Burke and Chris Valaika.

“I’m ready. It’ll be interesting,” Alonso said. “I faced Stephen Strasburg in the fall league too. I went 1-for-3. Obviously, this will be lefty-lefty.”

Jonny Gomes has some experience facing a ballyhooed prospect. When with the Rays, he took live BP when David Price was pitching for the first time in camp.

“A 1-0 changeup and dumped it over the batter’s eye in center field,” Gomes said. “True story, ask him.”

As for Chapman?

“I can go all of camp without facing him,” Gomes said.

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Smooth day

Tuesday’s first full squad workout seemed to have no incidents or issues. All 59 players in camp participated.

There was a lot going on at one time. I watched Yonder Alonso hit in the cage for a little bit. Juan Francisco hit a couple very deep shots over the fence — to both sides of the field. Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce all hit in the same group.

GM Walt Jocketty used a speedy golf cart to get around to watch everything. He humorously honked at me to get off of the path when I wasn’t paying attention while I was on the phone.

Funniest sight of the day came after the workout. Aroldis Chapman was walking across the front sidewalk of the complex to leave and talking on his phone. Two autograph seekers camped at the entrance walked over to get him to sign. Once he did, about a dozen other guys sprinted across the lawn and surrounded him like seagulls looking for snacks. Honestly, I don’t know if Chapman ever escaped.

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Gomes in the house

With a mohawk on his head and a smile on his face, Jonny Gomes walked into the Reds clubhouse on Monday after the workout. Several guys were there to greet him.

Gomes agreed to a one year Major League contract with a club option, pending the passing of his physical. He said he would talk after it’s done.

“The only thing we hadn’t checked off was a right-handed power hitter,” Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. “I think Jonny definitely fills that role. There will definitely be a lot of competition for that spot in the outfield.”

In 281 at-bats for the Reds, Gomes slugged 20 home runs while batting .267 with 51 RBIs and .338 on-base percentage in 98 games. But he was non-tendered on Dec. 12.

Gomes’ name was linked to numerous clubs throughout the winter. He was reportedly close to joining the Cubs in January until Chicago signed Xavier Nady. The Indians and Mariners were also rumored suitors.

“It was definitely a different off-season than in the past,” said Gomes. “A lot of people overplayed their hand, it’s what it seemed like. It wasn’t in my case at all. If I was ever to hold out for money or a big deal, it wouldn’t be after a 280 at-bat campaign.

“After the non-tender [on Dec 12], the No. 1 thing on my plate was a Major League deal. The money is nice of course but I just wanted to major league deal. It took all the way to Feb. 22. It doesn’t matter when you sign as long as you get in before camp. Here I am. I’m definitely happy to be back, for sure.”

OK fans, what do you think?

Monday morning notes

It’s raining again outside (third day in a row) so we know that drills. Indoors, a much larger media contingent is in the work room today with the Aroldis Chapman press conference coming up a few hours. Chapman also has a bullpen session this morning.

Some of the highlights out of Dusty Baker’s office this morning:

With Jonny Gomes not in the fold, at least yet, a reporter mentioned there was slim pickings for right-handed hitters in the outfield that have a chance at making the team.
 
“Who’s picking the team?” Baker fired back.

Currently, the three leading right-handed hitting contenders for left field are Wladimir Balentien, Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey. Balentien is a .190 hitter lifetime vs. left-handed pitchers, vs. .235 against right-handers — which goes against the norm. Baker doesn’t want to write off Balentien vs. lefties.

“It’s part of our job to teach him,” he said. “That’s one thing that I don’t like too much is that a guy gets labeled with what he can’t do so early in his career. You hope that you can teach him to have a varying philosophy on how to hit them. There are some guys here that can teach guys.”

Frazier is a possiblity to make the team but whether or not the club would be willing to consider him him for a utility role where he wouldn’t get regular at-bats isn’t known yet.

“That’s always a very tough question with a young player,” Baker said. “He is young in experience and professionally. Sometimes the meter runs a little quicker if you’re a college player vs. a high school player.”

There are also a lot of veterans vying for utility spots. There is Aaron Miles, Chris Burke, Miguel Cairo plus Paul Janish and Drew Sutton.

Miles reported to camp today carrying a Cubs equipment bag — his team last season. A .282 career hitter, he batted only .185 in 74 games for Chicago after signing a two-year contract.

“I’m just excited to get last year behind me and get back to the baseball I know I can play,” Miles said.

Miles explained some of the issues that set him back last season. More on that later on the main sites.

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