February 2011

News spreads quickly

It didn’t take long for news about Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright’s elbow injury to hit Reds camp.

“Wainwright, gone,” one Reds player said loudly as he walked into the clubhouse this morning.

The Cardinals told reporters in Florida that Wainwright’s injury was “significant” and he went back to St. Louis to be examined. Obviously, if he needs season-ending surgery, it would be a huge blow to the Cardinals’ chances and naturally, a boost that would help the Reds.

“I hate to see that,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “He’s not only a great pitcher, he seems like a fine young man too. Every time I’ve seen him, he’s been mannerable, polite and respectful.”

Even Baker’s 12-year-old son, Darren, had to spread the news. Before going to school, Darren called his father’s office from his home in Sacramento.

“Significant, huh? All right my son, thanks for the tip,” Baker said to his son over the phone.

“That’s my scout right there,” Baker said.

Other items from the morning:

*The Reds are taking live BP and Aroldis Chapman is among the listed pitchers throwing. I will try to get some video of that scene. Live BP is one those times I really value my job and the access my credential affords. In the past I’ve been able to go right up to the cage and watch. That’s where I saw Chapman last year and hitters talking to each other trying to make sense of what they saw for the first time. Even pitchers that don’t throw very hard are impressive to watch. It’s something you never ever get to see once the games really start.

*Baker said that Jonny Gomes is leaner and trimmer and might get the chance to run more. Gomes was big on going from first to third last season

“In the minor leagues, he stole 20 bases a couple of times,” Baker said.

*A St. Louis reporter is here today and asked if the Reds-Cardinals rivalry had ursurped the more famous Cubs-Cardinals rivalry. Baker didn’t seem to think so.

“Rivalries remain the same but new rivalries pop up periodically depending on what’s happened and who’s good and getting better at the time,” Baker said. “I remember when I was with the Dodgers, it was us and the Reds. Then when the Big Red Machine started dismantling, it became us and Houston with Nolan, J.R. and those guys. I remember just one skirmish with the Reds. Pete was on Bobby Welch for something and Monday said something to Pete. Pete came over to our dugout at third base and said ‘why don’t you shut me up.'”

“Mario [Soto] and I almost had it out a couple of times. He hit on the elbow twice – once in spring training and once in the season. I said hit me one more time and we’re going to have it out.”

Of course, Soto is now with the Reds in the front office and as a roving pitching instructor

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Volquez for Opening Day

Dusty Baker announced his Opening Day starter — it’s Edinson Volquez.

The top three of the rotation will be Volquez, Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto.

“You want to go hard, soft, hard,” Baker said about the style of his pitchers. “You want to break up Cueto and Volquez because you don’t want them to out and out radar gun each other.”

The other two rotation spots remain up for grabs between Homer Bailey, Travis Wood and Mike Leake.

As for the hoopla that surrounds the opener, Baker felt Volquez was equipped to handle it since nothing really bothers him. More importantly, he felt Volquez could handle facing the other club’s No. 1 starters regularly.

Opening Day is March 31 vs. the Brewers at GABP.

More quotes from Baker:

Why it’s not Arroyo as the No. 1 starter?

“I think Bronson has always leaned towards not being it. He’s more of a long-run type of guy. What’s Bronson’s ERA, [3.88]? If you’re facing No. 1’s, that equals a lot of losses. He’s fine with it. I talked to him about it. He was thinking about it this winter, he feels it’s best spot in the rotation for him too.”

Shows confidence in Volquez?

“We’re very confident in Volquez. Plus you name who you think can handle it the best. Is Homer ready for the No. 1? Is Wood ready for No. 1? Is Leake ready for No. 1? Cueto just signed a four-year contract and what’s he, 23 years old? He’s already got enough pressure on him. I’m trying to relieve any pressure from him thinking he has to prove he’s worth the money. Sometimes through the process of elimination you come up with who you think can handle the situation the best. There’s nobody looser and I think can handle the situation better than Volquez. Not much bothers him. At least he doesn’t show it bothers him.”

More on this later…


Catching situation and older guys

The line of Monday morning came in Dusty Baker’s office when a younger reporter the manager didn’t know walked in among the regular group of beat writers.

“Who are you with young man?” Baker said.

The guy said he was from Baseball Youth Magazine.

“I knew you weren’t with AARP,” Baker responded to laughter. “They send me stuff every day. As long as you’re there by 5 p.m., you can eat the early bird special.”

On to the business of the morning —

*I asked Baker if he was planning on splitting catching duties mostly even between Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan. Last season, Hernandez wound up with more at-bats with 313 to Hanigan’s 203 but Hanigan also missed 38 games with a fractured left thumb.

“It’ll probably be about the same,” Baker said. “They were both very productive. They’re both strong and caught well, threw well. That’s about as good of a tandem as there is in baseball. And they get along well, which helps.”

*Baker has had some meetings lately with some of his older players

“I pulled up the stats from last year of at-bats and innings to get an idea of how to program each guy and get them ready,” Baker said. “Everybody is different, especially guys like Scotty, Renteria and Cairo. Older guys seem to take a little longer to get ready. Last year, Cairo didn’t look good at all and got better as the season goes on That’s what usually happens to the older guy. It takes him longer to get ready and younger guys are usually ready sooner. It’s kind of hard to compare and older guy to a younger guy at Spring Training, especially early.”

*Today’s workout was pushed back to the afternoon to let the fields dry after all of the weekend rain.

“We need to get on the field, especially our infielders,” Baker said.

*Live batting practice, where Reds hitters face Reds pitchers begins Tuesday.

*An intrasquad game will be played on Saturday.

*No pitching assignments have been revealed yet for when games start on Sunday.

*Baker plans on using the DH in Cactus League games until the middle of March to give hitters more at-bats. With pitchers not working very long that early in spring, they wouldn’t get many at-bats any way.

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Votto in camp, a rainy camp

So it does rain the desert….

This was first horrible weather day out here around bucolic Reds complex in Goodyear. You know it’s a bad sign when high winds create a dust storm and tumbleweeds are rolling around. The first full squad workout was an abbreviated affair indeed. Much of it was moved indoors to the cages — something that would not have been as easy in Sarasota.

All 54 players on the spring roster are present and accounted for. The last four to check in were Joey Votto, Scott Rolen, Jonny Gomes and Miguel Cairo. Gomes was sporting a freshly shorn Mohawk and was proud that his new son, Colt, was born on Valentine’s Day. It is Gomes’ second child.

This was the first extended and in-person opportunity  to speak with Votto since he signed his $38 million contract last month. You can see the full story shortly on MLB.com. I asked him if it was as life-changing as it would seem to have that kind of money and security.

“The only way it could be life changing is if I allow it to be life changing,” Votto said. “I think I have my priorities in check. I have my family, my friends ,myself, my dog, my free time. I have other interests, not just baseball. Most importantly, I feel like my job is a huge priority of mine. I enjoy my job, money or not. I feel the exact same way. I love competing. I want to see how good I can be. I want to play for a winning team. I feel lucky because I am one of those guys that does play for a winning team.”

Not in the story was a quote from Votto about winning some of the awards and accolades he received over the winter. Besides the NL MVP, he was recognized in his native country as the Canadian Athlete of the Year. That was big to him.

“I won a ton of really cool Canadian awards. Fans in Cincinnati or Americans in general may not understand how important something like that is to someone like myself,” Votto said. “To be on a list of a ton of fantastic athletes is pretty incredible, also in an Olympic year. It’d be like beating USA Basketball. I’m very proud of those. The MVP is definitely at the top of the list. But winning Canada’s athlete of the year is pretty darn close.”

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Renteria, Phillips at complex

Good morning from Goodyear and it’s the first gray day I can remember having here so far. A whole bunch of rain is supposed to move through Saturday I’m hearing. Yes, it does rain out here from time to time.

A few notes —

*Edgar Renteria arrived to camp today and talked to reporters. Dusty Baker said he would keep him at shortstop for the early part of spring before even thinking about moving him around.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play second base,” Baker said. “It’s a totally different thing when you have to have your back to the guy coming in vs. all those years you could see him coming.”

Renteria said he took a lot of grounders at second base last season to get prepared. He has never really played anywhere but shortstop though. Renteria is also prepared to back up Paul Janish at shortstop.

“You guys know my position is shortstop but I will play whatever the skipper wants me to play,” Renteria said.

*Brandon Phillips also arrived today and I think he shook hands and/or hugged everybody in the room he saw — whether he knew them or not. I later spoke to him for a couple of minutes and we patched up some things that were between us from last year. I am glad to know we’re moving forward. I’m not sure if you noticed or not, but he was not freuqently quoted on MLB.com most of last season.

*Incidentally — when Renteria does appear at shortstop this season, he will be the 19th different one Phillips has been paired with since he arrived in 2006. Here is the list of the other 18, courtesy of Rob Butcher:

Orlando Cabrera, Miguel Cairo, Paul Janish, Drew Sutton, Chris Valaika, Alex Gonzalez, Jerry Hairston, Adam Rosales, Jolbert Cabrera, Juan Castro, Jeff Keppinger, Danny Richar, Enrique Cruz, Pedro Lopez, Rich Aurilia, Royce Clayton, Felipe Lopez, Ray Olmedo.

*I did an interview with Yonder Alonso today and will have a story on him later. He’s working every day in left field and right field with coach Billy Hatcher. Hatcher has been pleased with both the progress and Alonso’s work ethic.

*From my personal count — only Joey Votto, Scott Rolen, Jonny Gomes and Miguel Cairo are not here yet. The report day for the full squad is Saturday. I’m sure all will be present and accounted for.

*Also — a note from Cardinals camp: Jim Edmonds announced his retirement today before reporting. Edmonds was hobbling badly on his Achilles tendon at the end of last season with the Reds.

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Baker: No closer controversy

The topic of Aroldis Chapman and his role for this season came up this morning in Reds manager Dusty Baker’s office. But before a certain particular question could be asked, Baker jumped in with his own proclamation.

“One thing I want to squash right now: there is no closer situation controversy,” Baker said. “I know everybody wants to be in a hurry to rush [Chapman] in there but we’ve got to get him acclimated to what he’s doing first. Cordero, even though it’s been exciting a couple of times, still was second in in our league in saves the last two years. That’s something most people overlook. There are only a couple of non-exciting closers in baseball and one of them is getting older in Mariano.”

Francisco Cordero was actually third in the NL last season with 40 saves. He had eight blown saves. Near the end of last season, Baker staunchly defended Cordero when there was clamoring for Chapman to close games with his 100-plus mph velocity.

Right now, Chapman will continue to be used in the set-up role he gradually assumed over the final month of last season.

“I plan on using him like I used him last year and we’ll see how he progresses and things,” Baker said. “We need him now more as a reliever than as a starter. The fact he’s left-handed, the fact he seems to throw more strikes and it might be easier on his arm relieving right now.”

Chapman will be speaking to reporters after the workout today and I will have more on MLB.com.

In other news —

*Edinson Volquez was in camp today. A emergency light flashing on his plane in the Dominican delayed him two hours and he missed his connection to Phoenix.

*Dontrelle Willis was also back after he missed yesterday because his wife was having a baby.

*Drew Stubbs arrived to the complex today.

*There were no injuries from the first day’s workout.

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Bullpens, PFPs, drills, etc…

Late morning workouts commenced following the Reds team meeting. On the first day, it stays rather simple with pitchers and catchers going through stretching, running and of course, numerous drills while rotating in groups to different fields.

ST1 021611.JPGMost of the drills are called PFPs — pitchers fielding practice. They practice fielding and throwing to first base, second base, third base, retrieving bunts, etc.

On another field, catchers practiced blocking balls.

On another field, pitchers grabbed bats and practiced bunting.

And in the bullpen, there were guys throwing in eight-minute sessions. I saw Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, Travis Wood, Sam LeCure, Logan Ondrusek, Jordan Smith, Jerry Gil, Matt Klinker and Daryl Thompson.

ST3 021611.JPGI’m not a scout so I’m not qualified to say who looked good or not. But Gil could be an interesting pitcher to keep on your radar. He is a converted shortstop/outfielder that had a rifle right arm. I remember scout Gene Bennett once telling me a few years ago about seeing Gil in Double-A throw a ball to home plate from the center field warning track — without a hop. Gil had Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago and has worked his way through the Minors as a pitcher.

Of course, Chapman was bringing some velocity as he is wont to do. Below are a couple of pictures I took during his bullpen session.

ST5 021611.JPG
ST4 021611.JPGOverall, the first day of activity lasted about 2 1/2 hours. Things are just wrapping up now at around 1:30 p.m. AZ time. I later learned that Dontrelle Willis missed the workout because his wife was having a baby. 

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28 pitchers, 6 catchers get to work

Welcome to the first day of Reds Spring Training.

Most of this morning has been about formalities for the 28 pitchers and six catchers that officially reported today. Namely, it was physicals. There were blood pressure machines and other medical equipment spread out through the player development complex.

The team is meeting at around 10:30 AZ time and the workout begins at 11 a.m.

Reporters already met with manager Dusty Baker.

“It’s the start of the race,” Baker said. “When the plane left Sacramento yesterday, that was the start of baseball season for me. You wonder when the plane comes back home and the smoke clears, where you’re going to be. It’s a long race, a lot of things can happen, a lot of changes. We think a lot of positive things are about to happen.”

I will have more from Baker later in my stories on MLB.com. But one thing he did say is seven to eight pitchers would be prepared as starters. Besides the main three, that would include Bailey, Leake, Wood, LeCure and Maloney.

“That’s early,” Baker said. “Then you start cutting back once you decide which guys. Health is a big issue here too. You hope it doesn’t come into play but it usually does.”

Maloney and LeCure will also be prepared for possible bullpen duties.

“They’ve been knocking on the door here,” Baker said. “If it was an organization with lesser pitching, they’d probably be in the door. This is scouting, development, and the minor league system. It starts with scouting.”

Edinson Volquez is the only one not here so far. He was due to fly in later today from the Dominican Republic. Otherwise, everyone was present and accounted for.

More later…

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Report date almost here…

The Reds complex was a little quieter Tuesday than on my first day around — not surprising since pitchers and catchers officially go to work Wednesday. Lots of players were still getting in workouts and Jared Burton threw to Devin Mesoraco catching in the bullpen.

One of the things I watched was Aroldis Chapman long tossing with bullpen coach Juan “Porky” Lopez. Chapman was chucking balls from the center field warning track area to Lopez, who was at the foul line just beyond first base. Let me tell you, these were some impressive heaves.

chapman 021511.JPGI later had a nice chat with Lopez, who had a busy winter with his kids. His son, Jack, is a star high school shortstop in Orlando and likely to be drafted this June. Jack also signed to attend the Univ. of Miami on a scholarship so he is a kid with options when the time comes to make decisions.

Among the people I saw in camp today that I didn’t see yesterday were Corky Miller, Daryl Thompson, Dave Sappelt, third base coach Mark Berry and catching prospect Yasmani Grandal.

Again, the weather is just spectacular today. I heard it might get colder by week’s end. And by colder, I mean the highs will be in the low-to-mid 60s. Don’t hate me for writing that.

ESPN and the Reds made news twice today.

Former Reds great Barry Larkin joined the network as a baseball analyst, it was formally announced today. Word had gotten out yesterday. Larkin had been with MLB Network since it launched.

Also — Baseball Tonight revealed its Spring Training tour itinerary and it will be in this camp on Wednesday. Larkin is not among the talent.

An item I didn’t expect was announced today. Ken Griffey Jr. is joining the Mariners as a special consultant. The club says Griffey will be involved in Major League Baseball operations and player development, as well as their Minor League system, marketing, broadcasting and community relations. Junior will also be at Spring Training this year. I always thought Griffey would lay very low after retiring so he could be with his kids. He went out quietly in the middle of last season. I’m glad to hear he’s going to be involved with the game to some degree. 

Today’s story on the Reds site and MLB.com will be on Dontrelle Willis. It will be very interesting to see how he fares in camp and whether he can earn a spot in a crowded bullpen.

Things really get rolling on Wednesday. There will be physicals in the morning, a meetings and the first formal workout should commence in the afternoon. Manager Dusty Baker will also be in camp for the first time and his daily sessions with reporters will also begin. 

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Early arrivals to camp

Good afternoon from the Reds Spring Training complex in Goodyear, my home away from home until the end of March…

I am an early arrival to the camp…the only other person in the media room was Michael Keating, a photographer from the Enquirer. But several players have long been in camp ahead of Wednesday’s report date for pitchers and catchers and Friday’s for the full squad. Chris Valaika told me he’s been here since Jan. 1. Matt Maloney came out Feb. 1.

goodyear sign2 021411.JPGChris Heisey was also early.

“Too much snow in Pennsylvania,” Heisey said.

Among the other guys I saw today were Dontrelle Willis, Mike Leake, Bill Bray, Logan Ondrusek, Daniel Ray Herrera, Yonder Alonso, Ryan Hanigan, Jared Burton, Justin Lehr and Fred Lewis.

A bunch of pitchers were throwing in bullpen sessions today — Lehr, Leake, Willis, Bray, Jordan Smith and more. It was nice to hear the pop in the catchers’ mitts again. I also like hearing the clank, clank of spikes on concrete as guys were on the sidewalks outside near the bullpen area.

On the site later today, I will have a story on Leake. He’s definitely preparing himself to not only get a rotation spot, but to be strong enough to pitch the entire season.

The part that will make you envious — the weather has been spectacular since I arrived. A little chilly in the morning but 70s and 80s during the day. I’ve already got some color in my face.

bullpen 021411.JPGI will have much more from camp over the next 40-plus days — both on the blog and Twitter and of course, on MLB.com/Reds.com. Hope you keep coming back for more stories and information.

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