March 2010

A day game and a night game

Today is a two for the price of two type of day in Goodyear. In a rarity I’ve never seen before, the Reds are hosting not one, but two split-squad games. At 4:05 pm ET, they have the Brewers and the Indians make their lengthy road trip from down the street at 10:05 pm.

Things are starting later here at the complex so here are two lineups for now.

Day game vs. MIL

Dickerson 8
Cozart 6
Votto 3
Rolen 5
Gomes 7
Balentien 9
Hernandez 2
Burke DH
Castillo 4
 
Chapman 1

Rhodes, Masset among those following in the bullpen. Obviously, many eyes will be watching to see how Chapman fares in his first start. He is slated to pitch three innings.

Night game vs. CLE

Stubbs 8
Cabrera 6
Phillips 4
Francisco 5
Nix 7
Bruce 9
Cairo DH
Frazier 3
Hanigan 2

Arroyo 1

Herrera, Owings, Burton among those in bullpen.

Morning notes:

*The plan is to have most of the players in the day game lineup play in Thursday’s day game vs. Cleveland. The night game guys will get a game off tomorrow.

“I spread it out because you don’t want fatigue setting in now,” Baker said. “That’s when you have injuries, especially leg problems. It’s a tough stretch of games we have going now.”

*Baker didn’t view that Chapman was starting as a different type of test after two relief appearances.

“It’s not like it’s his first time going out there and doing it. He’s been out there,” Baker said. “I don’t think it matters to him. It doesn’t matter that much at spring training anyway because it’s not like you tell somebody to hurry up and get loose. Whoever is going out there, it’s just like you’re starting a game. You know when you’re going into the game.”

*Obviously, I will have much more later on the Chapman outing. Check back at MLB.com/Reds.com.

*The plan is to keep Chapman’s confidante/interpreter, Class A pitching coach Tony Fossas, in big league camp at least until Tuesday’s off day. Fossas needs to get back to his own players and help prepare for the Dragons’ season. If Chapman makes the team, there is a plan to provide a support system among the Latin players in the clubhouse.

*In one of those weird days when writers had too much idle time on Tuesday in Tucson during the D-Backs game, the topic in the press box was which current Reds player would you most want getting your back if the benches cleared. The unanimous pick among the scribes was outfielder Jonny Gomes. The No. 2 pick featured a wide variety of choices and Gomes was told this morning about the discussion.

“You don’t need to get by No. 1. You don’t need a second. I can be No. 2, too,” Gomes said, getting big laughs.

Gomes pointed out something important though. He doesn’t go looking for trouble.

“With the Rays, I hold the Major League and minor league record for hit-by-pitches. I never charged once,” he said. “The only time I’ve ever been in a squabble or whatever, it’s always having the back of my teammates. I’ve been hit three or four times in a game. I don’t care if it’s on purpose or not – I just drop my bat and go to first.”

Gomes had a memorable early on in 2008 with the Rays when he got into fights with the Yankees and Red Sox to support teammates.

*Baker meets with the writers in the morning before workouts and often uses the time to also eat breakfast at his desk. He apolgized for it today and provided the line of the day.

“Chow hall closes at 9:45 a.m. I can’t be coming out of there at 9:50, especially when it’s my rule,” Baker said.

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No LF chances for Francisco

The Reds hoped they could get Juan Francisco into left field to see what he can do. They’re still hoping.

During Tuesday’s 13-7 win over Arizona, Francisco didn’t get any chances. In the first inning, he nearly fell over a railing trying for a foul ball out of play. But that was it.

“Of course. Isn’t that how it goes?” manager Dusty Baker said. “We saw that wind blowing out there and said ‘oh Lord, this is not the day to break him in left field.”

Baker said Francisco would get another chance to play left field but didn’t know when. Offensively, Francisco was 1-for-3 with a RBI single in the first inning. He also grounded out twice.

All three at-bats ended after the first pitch.

“That’s who he is right now,” Baker said. “That’s the only thing we’re afraid of when the word gets around about pitch selection. You’d rather have a guy you have to calm down than a young man you have to prod to swing. He’s aggressive.”

Other post-game notes:

*The Reds have scored 31 runs over their last three games, including 13-spots two days in a row.  They are 5-1-1 over their last seven games. Not that it means anything.

*Jay Bruce was 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Taking advantage of a 19 mph wind blowing to left field, Bruce went opposite field twice — with a RBI double in the first inning and a home run in the second. Bruce is 9-for-23 (.391) this spring.

“We had some guys swinging the bat great. Jay Bruce has his stroke going pretty good,” Baker said. “It’s fun to see this early. We got some timely hits.”

*Drew Stubbs was 2-for-3 with a double and two-run triple. Check out the full story on him on MLB.com later. 

*In the young pitcher department, Logan Ondrusek’s nice spring continued with 1 1/3 scoreless innings and two strikeouts. Ondrusek has been perfect over his 3 1/3 innings in three outings. He took over today for lefty Philippe Valiquette, who allowed three earned runs and two hits over his one inning. Valiquette also hit two batters in a row.

“Once he gets control of the strike zone and tightens up his breaking ball a little bit…he’s got big league stuff but right now, minor league command. He’s going to be a very good pitcher,” Baker said.

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First time in Tucson

Greetings from Tucson Electric Park, where the Diamondbacks host spring games and their Triple-A team calls home. With rush hour in Phoenix, it was about 2 1/2 hours to drive down here. I’m not getting attached to the area since this is the last year of Spring Training in Tucson. Both the D-Backs and Rockies are moving to the Phoenix area next year.

Lots of wide open desert, cactus and sagebrush along I-10 to look at on the way down. There were also random mountains and buttes — I wondered if I saw Wil E. Coyote trying to drop an anvil on the road runner a couple of times.

Beyond the left field wall are the Santa Catalina Mountains. There is some snowy peaks on one spot called Mt. Lemmon. It doesn’t pick up as well in the photo.


tucson.jpgSome pre-game notes:

*As mentioned yesterday, CF Drew Stubbs enters Tuesday 2-for-20 with seven strikeouts this spring. Meanwhile Chris Dickerson is tearing it up and making a bid for center field. Is Stubbs normally a slow starter like this?

“I’d say traditionally, yeah,” Stubbs responded. “The key part is getting to where you feel like you need to be from a comfort standpoint. Ultimately, you’re getting prepared for the season. I felt like, from the first couple of games until now, the results haven’t shown it but I’m starting to settle in. I’m starting to have better at-bats, which is the direction I’m trying to go in.”

Manager Dusty Baker isn’t concerned about Stubbs’ numbers…yet.

“No but he needs to get going here pretty soon,” Baker said. “We’re about a third of the way through and a 3-for-4 or 3-for-3 and you’re right back there when you don’t have many at-bats. I’d like to see him make some more contact because he’s struck out a lot, and try a couple of bunts. He’s been working on them with Hatch early in the morning.”

*Todd Frazier is the DH today and has also played LF, 1B, 2B and 3B in games this spring. The search to get him a settled spot continues.

“We still don’t know yet,” Baker said. “We’re still trying to come up with a position. Does he play everywhere or what position is best for him? He has a very interesting history but we’d like to come up with a position. You’ve seen some life.”

*Reliever Carlos Fisher has been out since Friday’s 1 2/3 innings appearance vs. the Dodgers because of muscle soreness on the forearm near his right elbow, according to Baker.

*People have been asking about when cuts are coming. Here’s the best clue that can be offered:

“Generally, it’s around pay day. I’m not going to lie to you,” Baker said. “It’s around split-squad days when we need to bodies. Basically, the 17th is a split-squad day. It’s also pay day. Sunday the 21st is also a split-squad day and we have a pay day a few days after that. Then we’ve got 10 days before we get ready to get out of here. It’s where you no longer say ‘I’m getting ready’ and you need to be ready.”

I think it’d be a good assumption to believe that some moves will go down on Thursday.

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CF: Dickerson hot, Stubbs not

During Jamie Ramsey’s “Meet the Reds Press” just before we all came out here, I made a comment that if Drew Stubbs played himself out of center field, left field contender Chris Dickerson could easily move over if Stubbs took a step backwards in camp.

Through the early going of games, that seems to be happening. (Although in fairness, I also said in that same statement to Jamie that I didn’t think Stubbs would falter.)

Dickerson went 4-for-4 with a two-run homer in Monday’s 13-5 Reds win over the A’s. He’s batting .429 (9-for-21) this spring. Stubbs, who did not play Monday, is batting .100 (2-for-20) and has seven strikeouts.

A couple of weeks ago, Dickerson created a little dustup about his disappointment in not getting a more serious look in center field, his natural position. But now he’s backed it up on the field.

“Hey man, that’s how you do it. You play your way into it,” manager Dusty Baker said. “You don’t talk your way into it. And he’s playing. That was an outstanding job today. He’s been having a good spring.”

Baker has given Dickerson several starts in center field, so he’s definitely getting a serious look.If Juan Francisco could become the left-handed portion of left field, moving Dickerson to center field would be an even easier move to make. Besides, six good weeks in the Majors last season does not assure Stubbs of any lockdowns on the position.

Other notes:

*Mike Leake isn’t likely to get a serious look at the fifth spot but he certainly deserves more than a cursory glance. Leake allowed one hit and struck out four over two scoreless innings of relief.

“Leake was outstanding. That little dude can pitch,” Baker said.

In three games, Leake has logged five scoreless innings with two hits, one walk and six strikeouts.

*Travis Wood pitched three innings before Leake and allowed one hit, one run with three walks and four strikeouts.

*Starter Mike Lincoln came out blazing by retiring his first six batters in a row. He allowed all four of his runs and five hits in the third inning but walked none and struck out two.

“Linc looked good the first two innings,” Baker said. “In the third inning, he got some balls out over the plate.”

*During the morning workout, lefty reliever Bill Bray threw live BP and said everything was good.

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Francisco to get shot at LF

The Reds have already posted their lineup for Tuesday’s road trip to Tucson. I will not relay all of it now but one thing that stood out is Juan Francisco is starting in left field.

Francisco is 4-for-12 with two home runs and three RBIs and also had a homer in Sunday’s ‘B’ game. Obviously, he’s blocked by Scott Rolen at third base.

“I feel really comfortable with it,” Francisco said of left field, with teammate Yonder Alonso translating the Spanish. “Thank God that in the Dominican, I was able to play it a lot. I’m excited to play over there.”

In 397 Minor League games, Francisco logged five of them in left field. In the winter ball regular season, with the Cibao Gigantes, the 22-year-old played 36 games at third base and 18 in left field.

If Francisco keeps hitting like this, a semi-strong defensive showing in left field could improve his chances against Jonny Gomes, Chris Dickerson and the rest of the competition.

“I don’t care. I know I can play both positions – left field or third base,” Francisco said. “It’s not a problem as long as I can play and contribute every day.”

In 131 games combined at Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville in 2009, he batted .295 with 27 homers and 93 RBIs. He had a nice September call-up to the Reds as well. His one issue — strikeouts. There were only 24 walks last season compared to 115 strikeouts in the Minors.

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Good Monday morning

Greetings — here is the Reds lineup vs. the A’s.

Reds lineup:

Dickerson 8
Cabrera 6
Votto 3
Rolen 5
Gomes 7
Nix 9
Francisco DH
Miles 4
Castillo 2

Lincoln 1

Manager Dusty Baker was still thinking about the end of Sunday’s game when he watched Jordan Smith blow a 5-1 lead after getting the first two outs in the top of the ninth vs. the White Sox. Chicago notched four hits and four runs and the game ended in a 5-5 tie.

“It was like watching a kid get beat up,” Baker said. “You want him to learn a lesson from it but you don’t want him to get beat up too badly.”

A couple of times, Smith was one strike away from ending the game.

“It was his game. We didn’t have anybody warming up. You learn more from bad outings than you do good ones.”

Smith, drafted in the sixth round of the 2006 Draft, has been a starter his entire time in the organization. But Baker sees Smith transitioning to a reliever, possibly a closer down the road. Smith was given chances to finish Friday’s game vs. the Dodgers too.

“He has a really good sinker and he’s working on a better slider and off-speed pitch,” Baker said. “He’s got one of the heaviest sinkers in camp.”

Smith will be on the bus trip to Tucson when the Reds face the Diamondbacks.

“I think he’s got the stuff,” Baker said. “This is when you find out what a kid is made of. It’s difficult to do. The biggest thing in the life of a reliever is to forget yesterday. That’s the toughest lesson to learn.”

Both Mike Leake and Travis Wood are scheduled to see action today vs. Oakland. Both have had sensational springs to this point but have been seen as only outside contenders for the fifth spot on the rotation. Baker was asked if either of them had legitimate chances.

“I don’t know,” Baker said. “This is Leake’s first Spring Training, period, and Wood’s first Major League Spring Training. It’s like pitch first and then we’ll see what’s happening. Don’t worry about making the team. Don’t worry about not making the team. Don’t worry about nothing. Just pitch. That’s what they’re doing.

“If they’re not here when we break, they’ll be here pretty soon. If they keep pitching like they’re pitching, they’ll be here sooner than most of us probably think about, if there’s room or if other guys aren’t doing the job, different variables.”

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Phillips, Maloney have good days

Manager Dusty Baker was well aware of what Brandon Phillips was hitting this spring — .000 because of a 0-for-14 start.

“He had been hitting the ball well. It’s not like he was topping balls and all that,” Baker said.

As the DH, Phillips was responsible for three of the Reds’ five runs during Sunday’s 5-5 tie vs. the White Sox. In a 2-for-3 day with a walk, he hit a RBI single in the first inning that scored Drew Stubbs. Phillips crushed a two-run home run to off of the batter’s eye in center field in the seventh.

It was a good bounce-back outing for Matt Maloney, who pitched three scoreless innings with three hits, two walks, two strikeouts and two successful pickoffs. The last time Maloney pitched, he was clobbered for four runs and four hits in two-third of an inning on March 9 vs. Arizona. This was his first start of spring and he knew the stakes were high if he wanted to stay in the race for the fifth spot.

“Definitely, especially coming out and starting,” Maloney said. “I wanted to get my innings in and that was the big thing last time. I couldn’t get through my inning. I was not doing my job, leaving the ball up and wasn’t pitching down in the zone. I really tried to focus on keeping the ball down in the zone and not overthrowing.”

“He threw the ball very well,” Baker said. “He kept them off balance. He’s been working on his moves, picked off a couple of guys.”

Other notes:

*Joey Votto got out of a 1-for-15 start by going 2-for-3 with a RBI single single in the fourth inning. That single came with a little luck. Earlier in the at-bat, Votto hit a foul pop to first base that was dropped for an error. Defensively, he also made a nice diving stop of an Omar Vizuqel grounder in the sixth inning.

*After he came 1-for-16 this spring, Drew Stubbs started the bottom of the first with a single to center field and scored. Stubbs was 1-for-4 in the game with a strikeout that brought his total to seven Ks in 20 at-bats.

*The Reds had a 5-1 lead heading into the ninth when reliever Jordan Smith gave up four runs and four hits with two outs. Both teams were out of pitchers after the ninth so the game was called and ended as a tie.

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Sunday morning notes

Good Sunday morning, although I realize it’s already afternoon in Cincinnati at least. While everyone else did the “spring forward” thing, Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings. So now we are three hours behind on Pacific time instead of two hours back on Mountain time.

This will be the start of a hectic week in Reds camp. There is a B game this morning vs. the Indians here at the complex before the regular 1:05 p.m. “A” game against the White Sox. Another round of cuts are looming after Wednesday’s doubleheader, which loom large for many players trying to make the team.

“It’s a tough week,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Tucson [Tuesday], double header [Wednesday], day game right after the double header [Thursday], a night game [Friday] and then a day game after that. And then a split-squad right after that. Between the 16th and 21st is about as close to season-reality as there is.”

Other notes from the morning:

*Non-roster infielder Chris Burke is in the ‘B’ game lineup today. Burke has been out since near the start of camp with a fractured knuckle on his right ring finger. To make the club, Burke essentially has to condense his entire camp into three weeks.

“It is tougher, no doubt about it,” Burke said. “It’s my reality. I have to try and do the best with it, try to get caught up and try to play well.”

*There was talk earlier in camp of trying 1B Yonder Alonso in positions other than his natural one. But there has been little mention of it lately and Alonso has played only first base in games.

“I’ve only got so many spots,” Baker said. “We have 60 guys. The other spots that he’s going to go to is probably when he goes to minor league camp. He’s been working out in left field. I’m having a tough enough time with all of these players until I make some cuts to get guys time.”

*Baker hopes to schedule more ‘B’ games to give fifth starter contenders more innings. Two of them are working in the ‘A’ game. Matt Maloney is starting and Justin Lehr is scheduled to get one inning.

*For the time being, the Reds are still going to use the DH to hit for their pitchers. Aroldis Chapman will need all the work he can get. He hasn’t had to hit since he was 16 since Cuba used a DH in international play. Chapman is learning how to bunt.

“We’re working with him every day,” Baker said “This dude is working his butt off.”

*SS Paul Janish has two big league homers in 336 at-bats so he definitely enjoyed hitting a home run in the fifth inning against the Cubs on Saturday. Power hitter Juan Francisco crushed two homers in the game. I playfully asked Janish if there was a new “Bash Brothers” combo on the left side of the infield.

“I got back into the dugout and said ‘me and Francisco, we’re competing for the most power in camp,” Janish said.

*It might be of subtle notice but Reds minor leaguers are no longer required to wear their socks high over their pants. Being clean shaven is not mandatory anymore either. That rule extended to coaches too. Triple-A Louisville manager Rick Sweet is wasting no time growing a mustache.

Finally, here are Reds lineups:

‘B’ game

Anderson 8
Janish 6
Nix 7
Francisco 5
Alonso 3
Burke 4
Heisey 9
Mesoraco DH
Castillo 2

Harang 1

‘A’ game

Stubbs 8
Cabrera 6
Votto 3
Phillips DH
Rolen 5
Bruce 9
Gomes 7
Hernandez 2
Miles 4

Maloney 1

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Nice days for Bailey, Francisco

The Reds were handed an 11-4 trouncing by the Cubs on Saturday in Mesa but most the damage was done beginning in the fifth inning when most of the regulars were gone.

*3B Scott Rolen was, as they say in hockey, a healthy scratch from the Reds lineup vs. the Cubs on Saturday. There was no injury issue that took him out of the original lineup.

“He’s been playing a lot and plus we have a tough schedule next week,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

The Reds have an “A” and “B” game scheduled for Sunday, a road trip to Tucson on Tuesday and day-night split-squad games on Wednesday.

Rolen’s replacement, third base prospect Juan Francisco, provided ample fill-in work. In his first two at-bats, Francisco crushed home runs. In the second inning, he hit a 3-2 pitch deep into the right-center field seats. On a 2-0 pitch in the fourth, Francisco went the other way with a long ball to left-center.

“He had a huge day. He has some tremendous power,” Baker said. “He blasted those balls.”

*Francisco is 4-for-11 (.364) in five games.

*Paul Janish also got into the power game with a solo homer in the top of the fifth.

*It was a very good afternoon for Reds starter Homer Bailey, who allowed one earned run and three hits over three innings with no walks and two strikeouts. In the third, Bailey gave up a one-out double to Jim Adduci. He scored on Darwin Barney’s seeing-eye single under second baseman Brandon Phillips’ glove.

“It took me a little while to get loose. The last two innings, I felt a lot better,” Bailey said. “I think it’s just getting back into games and stuff. You can throw all of these bullpens but you’re never ready for game situations until it happens.”

Bailey had thrown two scoreless innings in his previous outing, a ‘B’ game vs. Milwaukee. He also worked in the team intrasquad game and looked good.

“Homer threw the ball excellent,” Baker said. “He had good velocity today and very good location. He’s throwing as well as I’ve seen him.”

It’s been a quiet spring for Bailey, in terms of the attention he’s gotten. All of it has seemingly shifted to the latest young pitcher to arrive, Aroldis Chapman.

“I’m glad I’m done with that period now and focus on the game and the results,” Bailey said. “He’s going through a lot and he’s throwing really well. That’s good to see. I don’t know what the plans are for the fifth spot and it’s none of my business. He is definitely going to help this team out very soon.”

*After Bailey departed, fifth starter candidate Micah Owings gave up three earned runs and four hits over two innings with one walk and one strikeout. His big mistake was a two-out walk in the fifth. The next batter, Bryan LaHair hit a three-run homer.

*It was a rough afternoon for non-roster pitcher Jon Adkins, who lasted only one-plus innings but was tapped for five earned runs and seven hits with one strikeout. During the three-run Cubs sixth, Adkins gave up four-straight hits.

*Pedro Viola was also touched up for two earned runs and three hits in his inning.

*The Cubs used a lot of younger players in the split-squad game. Many of their regulars were playing the White Sox in Las Vegas. Chicago outhit the Reds, 18-5.

“A lot of guys over there are calling home — I’m ready Dad,” Baker said.

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The Captain and The Mayor

Popped over to the Goodyear complex for a little while before the Reds go to Mesa for the Cubs.

One of the first people I saw Saturday morning was Barry Larkin laughing at his locker in the coaches room. Larkin is in camp as a guest instructor for about 10 days and wearing a Reds uniform for the first time since he departed after the 2004 season.

Although 45, Larkin looked like he could still play.

“Looks can be deceiving,” he replied.

One thing Larkin didn’t overlook was the meaning of wearing that No. 11 uniform again.

“It feels good. It feels natural,” Larkin said. “I was telling Joey Votto the other day about my opportunity to play with the Nationals. When I saw the Nationals uniform with 11 and ‘Larkin’ on the back, I told them I couldn’t put the uniform on. I couldn’t do it. I sat in my locker and just looked at it like ‘something is not right about this.'”

Larkin spent a few years in the Nats front office but now works for MLB Network. As does Sean Casey, who is also back in uniform for the first time on Saturday.

One of my few regrets on this job is that I never got to cover the Reds when Casey was here. I started in December, 2005 during the Winter Meetings and the first news I got to write about was Casey being traded to the Pirates for LHP Dave Williams. We know how that deal turned out for Cincinnati.

Casey, aka “The Mayor”, is about as nice as they come and I’ve gotten to talk with him a few times since he left the Reds. But for the reporters he knew when he played here, there is fond feelings.

Casey saw Hal McCoy in the hallway and engulfed him a gigantic hug with big slaps on the back. I think Hal is headed to the chiropractor in a few minutes.

In that hallway, Dr. Tim Kremchek was giving Casey some grief. Casey called Doc last night while Kremchek was at the Suns-Lakers game.

“Where’s Doc? My elbow is killing me,” Casey said. “I think I need a cortisone shot.”

“You’re retired for God’s sake,” Kremchek said.

“It’s all the pullups I’ve been doing,” Casey joked.

*The Reds had a lineup change. Scott Rolen was scratched and Juan Francisco was the replacement in the fourth spot and at third base. The Reds said nothing was wrong with Rolen.

*After two relief appearances, lefty Aroldis Chapman will make his first start on Wednesday in the split-squad afternoon game vs. the Brewers.

*Jay Bruce is off to a nice start batting .429 (6-for-14) with a homer in six games. Considering the bad year he had last season, it’s encouraging. It’s also a sign that some of the improvement he made after coming off of the DL late in the year is sticking.

“So far, what I’ve been proud of is that I’m not going up there feeling like I’m having to hit or having to swing at pitches,” Bruce said. “I’m making a decision on the pitch I’m going to swing at. It’s not so much of collision hitting this year. It’s more of having more time to make a decision. I’ve chased very few pitches. Everyone is going to chase some pitches or swing at bad pitches or strikeout. I’m trying to cut down on that as much as I can. That’s my goal.”

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