March 2010

What to make of spring numbers?

Often during lulls in spring games, press box conversations often drift into unlikely directions. Today was no different with topics of Carrot Top, Gallagher, Matt Stair’s new slim figure, Jamie Ramsey’s “nickel and dime” blog and other oddities popping up.

During the lengthy Tuesday game, lost by the Reds to the Padres by a 7-5 score, the press box conversation actually fell back into a good baseball topic. What can be made of some of these spring results by the Reds?

After today’s outing, Aaron Harang has a 9.88 ERA and had lousy-looking lines in his last two starts. Jared Burton has a 5.63 ERA and a team-high four home runs allowed, including one on Tuesday. Aaron Miles, coming off of a bad 2009 season, is batting a paltry .143 while regulars like Brandon Phillips (.125) and Orlando Cabrera (.175) are struggling.

When do we stop saying “it’s just spring” and start worrying — if at all? 

Keep these 2009 statisitics in mind:

Francisco Cordero had a 12.10 ERA in spring. He saved 39 in the regular season with a 2.16 ERA.

Arthur Rhodes had a 5.63 ERA in spring and 2.66 ERA in regular season.

Bronson Arroyo had a 5.95 ERA in spring and a 3.84 ERA in the season with 15 wins.

On the flip side…

Micah Owings was lights out with a 1.52 ERA in spring and had a terrible season (7-12, 5.34).

OF Darnell McDonald batted .300 in camp to make the team and was sent out by May.

Jay Bruce had a nice spring with a .300 average and batted .223 when the games counted.

Do Burton’s numbers mean he’s no longer a roster lock, especially with Logan Ondrusek looking great and throwing 7 1/3 scoreless innings? Is Harang headed for another tough year?

They say numbers don’t lie, but in spring, they don’t always tell the truth either. That’s why I try not to make a lot out of anything based on spring stats, unless it’s a position battle between two guys without much of a track record (ie: Stubbs and Dickerson for center field).  

When it came to Harang, Dusty Baker was not worried.

“I definitely look beyond [the spring numbers],” Baker said. “He’s throwing the ball with better velocity and coming inside, and using his legs. If you don’t get the results, you have to find some positives in there. The positive is he’s throwing the ball good.”

*Baker will be in Las Vegas with the Reds for their evening split-squad game on Wednesday night. The club was scheduled to fly out on Tuesday night. That means bench coach Chris Speier will manage the Wednesday afternoon game vs. the A’s in Phoenix. Pitching coach Bryan Price will be at both games because he wants to watch both fifth starter contenders, Mike Leake and Travis Wood, make starts. Price will fly to Las Vegas right after the A’s game.

*There were six errors committed during the sloppy game. Drew Sutton’s two at shortstop probably did not help his cause for the last couple of bench spots.

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5th starter battle down to two

It seems to be a two-man race for the rotation’s fifth spot — Mike Leake and Travis Wood. Aroldis Chapman seems all but eliminated based on comments from Reds general manager Walt Jocketty.

Chapman had back spasms during his March 22 start and hasn’t been stretched out enough. He will most likely begin somewhere in the Minor Leagues, which hasn’t been determined.

“The injury set him back to the point where it’s going to be tough for him to be ready to start the season as one of our five starters,” Jocketty said.

Had it not been for the setback, Chapman could very well have made the team. He was pitching the best among the seven contenders.

“He was still in competition,” Jocketty said. “I think we needed the spring to figure out what is the best route for him. even without the injury, we may have decided to send him some place to get established first.”

Chapman, who pitched a scoreless inning Sunday in a Minor League game, is slated to work three innings behind Leake vs. Oakland on Wednesday.

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Chapman to pitch Weds

Reds lineup vs SD

Dickerson 8
Sutton 6
Votto 3
Rolen 5
Bruce 9
Gomes 7
Miles 4
Hanigan 2
Harang 1

*Aroldis Chapman will pitch two innings of relief on Wednesday vs. Oakland. Chapman, who worked one inning of relief in a Minor League game on Sunday, will follow Mike Leake, who is starting and expected to go five innings.

*Baker did not say when the fifth starter decision would come after everyone pitches Wednesday. He said it was possible that whoever the guy is could remain after camp breaks to get another start in extended spring. The fifth starter might not be needed until April 10 or 11.

“And then maybe we can carry another position player or something,” Baker said.

*Until he packed it the other day, there was a sign in Baker’s office that read: “The two most important things in life are good friends and a good bullpen. Not necessarily in that order.”

The Reds had the good fortune of returning all of their key relievers from last season’s bullpen, which was ranked third in the NL in ERA.

“In this day and age, of all the guys that move around in baseball, they are relievers and utility guys,” Baker said. “To keep ours intact says a lot for our bullpen and our organization at the same time.”

The continuity should be helpful entering this season but there is still room for one or possibly two more pitchers depending on how many go north.

“They have an idea already,” Baker said. “It’s not like we’ve added a bunch of new guys or deleted guys. There’s still, depending on what we see and how guys respond and how they pitch, room for other guys. If there isn’t, we have reliable backups and if there is, we still have reliable backups. A lot of it depends on how the last few days go, what we see and what we think is best for this team.”

*Drew Sutton is starting today and remains one of six infielders vying for likely two utility jobs. He’s trying to do all he can to make a final impression to decision-makers.

“Three days left. It’s getting close,” Sutton said. “You try not to start thinking about if I make it or not. We’ve already had to ship our cars out, so either way, I have to get back to Cincinnati to get my stuff.”

The competition is between Aaron Miles, Sutton, Chris Burke, Miguel Cairo, Paul Janish and Juan Francisco. Miles’ $2.7 million salary would seem to make him a lock but his .115 (3-for-26) isn’t so pretty. Sutton is entering the day batting .259 (7-for-27). He has played six positions in camp — four infield and two outfield.

*The Reds contingent headed to Las Vegas leave on Tuesday night and will stay overnight for Wednesday’s game vs. the Dodgers. Baker will be on the trip and bench coach Chris Speier will manage the other game vs. Oakland. Pitching coach Bryan Price will be at the Oakland game and then fly to Las Vegas for the other game.

*Check out my season preview story here.

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Francisco tried at 1B

The Reds have tried to move prospect Juan Francisco to positions other than his natural third base spot. First it was left field on March 16 and today in the fifth inning, Francisco appeared at first base for the first time this spring.

Total number of balls hit Francisco’s way in the opportunities: zero. He did receive the ball a few times on throws to first.

Francisco, who never played first base in the Minors, is trying to land one of the extra spots on the Reds bench. He was 0-for-2 and struck out in the eighth while swinging way in front of a breaking pitch.

“We’re trying to move him around and get him acclimated just in case,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “We still have plenty of outfielders here. Until we make a move, we’ll see. We’re just weighing as many options as we can.”

In 18 games, Francisco is batting .300 (12-for-40) with two homers and five RBIs.

*It was a rough day of pitching during an 8-1 loss to the Cubs, which slugged three home runs. Three pitchers trying to nab one of the final bullpen spots particularly stumbled.

*Carlos Fisher started and gave up five hits and three runs in 1 2/3 innings, including Marlon Byrd’s two-run shot in the Cubs’ first inning. In the seventh, Kip Wells gave up two runs and two hits, hit a batter and walked in a run with the bases loaded. In the eighth, Matt Maloney gave up three hits and three runs, including two homers.

“We got beat up pretty good today,” Baker said.

*Justin Lehr had two very strong scoreless innings with no hits, one walk and three strikeouts.

“He looked pretty good. He had them off-speed, showed good control,” Baker said.

Lehr’s  chances of making the rotation are likely kaput and he’s still trying to make the bullpen. He hasn’t disappointed, however, with a 3.14 ERA in seven games, including one start. He’s walked five and struck out five.

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Playing lineup games

Here is the Reds lineup vs. Cubs

Stubbs 8
Cabrera 6
Votto 3
Phillips 4
Rolen 5
Bruce 9
Dickerson 7
Hernandez 2
Fisher 1

*The so-called “Opening Day” lineup has been pretty close to this one throughout spring.  Dickerson has often batted leadoff instead of Stubbs. Or, swap out Dickerson for Gomes and that could be the look vs. left-handed pitchers.

One potential cause for concern though is that the Reds haven’t hit well most of the spring. The .242 team batting average for spring is ranked 29th out of 30 teams. Last season, production was a huge problem and the Reds’ team average was second to last in the National League.

“I’m happy with the way it sets up. But I’m not real thrilled with the amount of production we’ve had yet,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said of his lineup. “It’s the best lineup I can come up with a few guys changing in and out or whatever. We still have some more potential lineups.”

Baker is keenly aware that fans have plenty of issues with the lineups he uses and share their views online or to the reporters. Many want Dickerson instead of Stubbs as the leadoff guy.

“That’s a possiblity,” Baker said. 

Most fans write to me and complain about Phillips batting fourth. Some want him to bat second.

“Where are you going to put [Orlando] Cabrera?” Baker said.

A reporter said it’s been suggested to him that Cabrera should bat eighth.

“Where are you going to put Hernandez?” Baker responded.

Me: “We can play this game forever.”

“Exactly and no one would have a set spot,” Baker said. “We have a good lineup. It’s not like we have some set Big Red Machine lineup. We don’t have a mega lineup. We still have some guys trying to prove themselves. Stubbs is still trying to prove himself. Dickerson is still trying to prove himself. Jay Bruce is still trying to prove himself. Gomes is just coming off his first decent year in four or five years.”

One thing to consider though — is the team average is from everybody that’s batted this spring. It counts guys coming over from Minor League camp and the prospects that got in later in games. Phillips (.128) and Cabrera (.189) are still struggling but Votto (.256) has heated up in recent days. Reading too much into spring numbers or exhibition game records can often be a futile exercise. 

Other notes from Monday morning:

*Aroldis Chapman could next pitch on Wednesday vs. Oakland in the split-squad game. His name is listed with ‘TBA’ as his innings total. Baker’s reports were good from Chapman’s one inning of work during a Minor League game on Sunday.

“They said he was throwing 91-97 mph,” Baker said. “They said he threw the ball well. He only went one inning. We’re going to see how he feels today and then make a determination.”

*It looks like the next wave of cuts will come after Wednesday’s split-squad game. There are still 40 players in camp.

“You would have liked whatever you’re going to do, do it early,” Baker said. “But we needed people and still haven’t made up our minds on a few. This is not how we planned it exactly but it’s how it is.”

*Reliever Logan Ondrusek has a 7 1/3 scoreless innings in his five outings this spring with two hits, no walks and seven strikeouts. He was impressing people even before games started and now has a chance to make the team. Not bad at all for a first big league camp.

“It’s a little different than I expected coming in, being a first-year guy and stuff,” Ondrusek said. “I figured I’d get my feet wet, meet the guys, meet the coaches and everything and show them a little bit and go from there. Being here this long, it’s an honor. I’m trying to prove I belong here and at some point during the season, help the team out.”

*It’s pretty much a bullpen day today with Fisher only pitching two innings.. Wells, Lehr, Maloney, Burton and Rhodes will follow. Homer Bailey is pitching six innings in a minor league game.

*Upcoming rotation:

Tues vs SD: Harang (6-7 inn)
Weds at OAK: Leake (5 inn). Chapman is listed with TBA innings
Weds at LAD: (Las Vegas): Wood (5 inn)
Thu vs TEX: Cueto (6-7 inn)
Fri at CLE: Arroyo (6-7 inn)
Sat vs CLE: Bailey (6-7 inn)

*For those interested, the following players will be among those on the trip to Las Vegas: Cabrera, Votto, Phillips, Bruce, Francisco, Dickerson and Gomes.

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Six spots left?

I’m sitting at CVG waiting for my connecting flight to Chicago, and then it’s on to Phoenix. Count me as being stunned no cuts were made in the four days I was away.

There are still 40 players on the roster with six days left until camp ends.

Here are the definite locks

Starting pitchers: Harang, Cueto, Arroyo, Bailey

Relievers: Burton, Cordero, Herrera, Masset, Rhodes

Catchers: Hernandez, Hanigan

Infielders: Votto, Phillips, Cabrera, Rolen

Outfielders: Bruce, Stubbs, Gomes, Dickerson

That’s 19 spots locked, six to go.

What’s left?

The fifth spot seems to be down to Wood, Leake, Chapman and maybe Lehr. With Leake having no minor league experience at all, I’d be surprised if he got the nod. But he’s made it this far. It looks like Chapman had a pain-free one inning in a minor league game today but will he have enough time to get stretched out? And are decision-makers sure he doesn’t need some acclimation time in Triple-A? Wood seems to have the inside track.

The remaining bullpen spots are between Lincoln, Owings, Maloney, Fisher and Ondrusek. Wells and Lehr could also be in the mix. There could be one or two spots left depending on whether they take 11 or 12 pitchers north.

The fifth outfield spot is down to Balentien and Nix. Balentien is out of options. Nix has the track record of last season but is a non-roster player.

And the backup infielder spots are down to Janish, Miles, Burke, Sutton, Cairo, Castillo and Francisco. Miles is owed $2.7 million this season. I still can’t believe the Reds would use a young guy like Francisco as a bench guy/pinch-hitter. He needs to play a lot. If Cairo made it, he would be the most likely backup first baseman of the group should Joey Votto have ever to come out of a game. Castillo is also interesting since he could also be a third catcher. One other potential issue is that only Janish, Sutton and Miles are on the 40-man roster. The other guys would have to be added in a second transaction.

It should be a very interesting final week of camp. Any suggestions for how to fill out the final roster for April 5?

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Superb start for Bailey

If Homer Bailey can pitch like he did on Wednesday during the regular season, it’d be a very positive thing for the rotation. Bailey gave up one earned run and three hits with one walk in his five innings. He also did not strike anyone out, but that’s OK since he let his defense do the work.

After three singles in the top of the first, Bailey did not allow another hit. He retired 13 of his last 14, including the final 10 in a row.

“I was just going out there and pounding the zone,” Bailey said. “That’s what me and Bryan Price have been talking about – just here it is, hit it. I didn’t want to go out there and walk guys. I got into a couple of full counts and stuff like that – when I missed, I didn’t miss by much.”

Bailey threw 75 pitches in the game. Through three starts he has a 3.09 ERA with 3 walks and six strikeouts. There was also a ‘B’ game of two perfect innings with strikeouts.

“He wasn’t quite as sharp but he was near the plate and made some quality pitches when he needed to,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He had good velocity. He was full of determination.”

As a batter, he worked a walk against Jonathan Sanchez and scored in the third inning.

“I had a strategy on that,” Bailey said with tongue in cheek. “Dig in, take a good stance and take the bat you used in BP that has a lot of white all over it and just act like you can do something. I’m not exactly known for hitting so I have to kind of fool them – ‘yeah, I gotcha,’ even though I don’t have a prayer. Let’s be realistic.”

*Drew Stubbs replaced Chris Dickerson in center field and went 1-for-3 with a two-run homer in the eighth. Stubbs has a seven game hitting streak and is 10-for-21 in that stretch with three homers.

*A replacement at third base, Aaron Miles committed a three-base fielding error that scored a run in the seventh inning. During the bottom of the eighth, Miles hit a RBI double. He is 2-for-18 (.111) this spring.

*Arthur Rhodes’ ERA through five appearances and five innings: 0.00. Rhodes pitched a perfect sixth inning today with one strikeout.

*Here is the rotation through March 31:

Thurs at COL — Harang starts, six inn.
Fri at SEA — Wood starts and Leake follows. Both get 4 inn.
Sat at SD — Cueto, 6 inn.
Sun vs LAD — Arroyo, 6 inn.
Mon at CHC — Bailey, 6 inn.
Tues vs SD — Harang, 7 inn.

I’m taking off to go home for a few days and catch up with my family. Be back on Monday.

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The last stretch of spring

Now that the off day is behind them, there are 11 days left before the Reds break camp.

Reds lineup vs. SF:

Dickerson 8
Cabrera 6
Votto 3
Phillips 4
Rolen 5
Bruce 9
Balentien 7
Hanigan 2
Bailey 1

*There was no idea yet when Aroldis Chapman would resume throwing or if the injury torpedoed his chances to make the Reds rotation as the fifth starter.

“We’re not there yet,” manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s looking too far into the future. I hate to speculate about it. He’ll get treatment and I hope that it’s OK. I don’t think it’s anything serious.

“You know how backs are. They can let you go tomorrow or keep you around for another week or 10 days. I hope not but you just don’t know.”

Click here for the complete story on Chapman

*Baker didn’t rule out some sort of mix-and-match plan with his outfield…which would mean Chris Dickerson and Drew Stubbs could both make the club and both play center field. Dickerson could also see time in right field on days Jay Bruce doesn’t get a good match-up.

“We’ll see,” Baker said. “Certain guys are more conducive to hit than other guys. Certain days I might need a better defensive team out there [depending] on who’s pitching for us. There are a lot of different factors when you make the lineup out every day. You put guys in a position where they’re most likely to succeed. They might not like it sometimes.”

Dickerson has had a fantastic spring, batting .364 (12-for-33) with a homer and six RBIs. Early in camp, he voiced his displeasure about being left out of the center field conversation — which rankled Baker and some in the clubhouse. But Dickerson has backed it up on the field. He’s also taken a different tact with his comments.

“After the first week, I knew I had something to prove,” Dickerson said. “That’s the case with every spring training. That’s how you have to approach it.

“At this point, we’re all just here to get prepared to contribute. Wherever and whenever that is, I just want to be ready. I want to contribute to the overall success of the team. That’s all I’m concerned about. When or where doesn’t really matter.”

*Matt Maloney is scheduled to throw 65 pitches today in a Minor League game.

40 players left in camp

The Reds made three more cuts on Monday, which trimmed the roster down to 40 players.

Outfielder Chris Heisey was optioned to Triple-A Louisville while infielder/outfielder Todd Frazier and shortstop Zack Cozart were re-assigned to the Minor League camp. All three struggled at the plate this spring.

Heading into Tuesday’s off day, here is how the camp stands. Of course, they need to get to a 25-man roster before April 5.

There are 20 pitchers left:

61 Arroyo, Bronson
34 Bailey, Homer
51 Burton, Jared
54 Chapman, Aroldis
48 Cordero, Francisco
47 Cueto, Johnny
46 Fisher, Carlos
39 Harang, Aaron
52 Herrera, Daniel Ray
76 Leake, Mike*
62 Lehr, Justin*
57 Lincoln, Mike
56 Maloney, Matt
40 Masset, Nick
66 Ondrusek, Logan
33 Owings, Micah
53 Rhodes, Arthur
36 Volquez, Edinson (60-day DL)
30 Wells, Kip*
71 Wood, Travis

 4 catchers:

26 Castillo, Wilkin*
29 Hanigan, Ryan
55 Hernandez, Ramon
37 Miller, Corky*

10 infielders:

16 Burke, Chris*
2 Cabrera, Orlando
43 Cairo, Miguel*
64 Francisco, Juan
7 Janish, Paul
3 Miles, Aaron
4 Phillips, Brandon
27 Rolen, Scott
15 Sutton, Drew
19 Votto, Joey

6 outfielders:

25 Balentien, Wladimir
32 Bruce, Jay
21 Dickerson, Chris
31 Gomes, Jonny
17 Nix, Laynce*
6 Stubbs, Drew

* = non-roster player

Also — Balentien and Lincoln are out of options.

Stiff lower back for Chapman

Reds lefty Aroldis Chapman was slated to pitch four innings but lasted only 1 2/3 innings. He exited early during the seventh inning as a precaution for a stiff lower back.

“I was trying to work it out but they took me out just in case,” Chapman said through translator Tony Fossas. “I’ve never had back problems.”

Chapman was clearly not throwing with his usual velocity. His third pitch of the day was 97 mph but he never topped that. In the 1-2-3 sixth inning, he needed only eight pitches.

In the seventh, Chapman threw an additional 30 pitches. But his first pitch was to the backstop and he walked a batter. He also ignored the runner, Jonathan Herrera, who stole second easily. More trouble came on an E6 by Drew Sutton, which scored a run. A walk to Alex Escobar followed and after a Bryan Price mound visit, there was a three-run double by Jordan Pacheco that made it a 7-1 game. The count was 2-1 to Chris Nelson when Price, Dusty Baker and the trainer popped out of the dugout to take Chapman out.

Chapman threw a lot more off-speed pitches in the outing.

“It was less effort to throw the slider than my fastball,” Chapman said.

Chapman’s line: 1 2/3 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, WP…38 pitches/21 strikes.

“I’m not really hurt but I have a little problem with my back that I’ve had all week,” Chapman said.

Clearly, the Reds were surprised when they found out Chapman had been bothered with his back lately.

Here are some quotes from Dusty Baker and Bryan Price:

Baker — “He didn’t say anything. I guess in Cuba, you’re taught not to complain or say much. We could tell he was wincing and walking around the mound. He really didn’t have his same stuff — same fastball or anything. We could tell something was wrong.”

Price –

“We’re not going to send guys out there that have problems or ailments that we’re aware of. Sometimes guys are going to go out there and compete because of the lure of trying to make the team and things of that nature. If this was an issue, then he shouldn’t have been pitching. Hopefully, next time we’ll know before he gets to game time.”

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