February 2012

Phillips arrives to camp

Brandon Phillips was another early arrival to Reds camp on Wednesday morning. Position players don’t have to be here until Friday. Phillips took batting practice and infield work with the other early arrivals.

At this time last year, Phillips was worried about not having a long term contract beyond 2012. He was talking about it at the end of the regular season. A deal was not reached during the off-season so it was natural question to come up after Phillips’ first workout.

“I thought it would be over with by now. It is what it is,” Phillips said. “The only thing I can really do is go out there and play the game and do what’s best for the team. I love the moves that we made to make the team better. That’s what it’s all about. We’ll all go out there and win and get things done. My day will come. I’m not really worried about it. I’ll let my agent and the Reds take care of that themselves. It would have been nice to come to camp knowing that things would have been done with but it actually didn’t work out that way.”

There has been no known movement in negotiations for a while. Phillips also hasn’t gotten any recent updates from his agents — the Levinson brothers.

“I haven’t heard anything since…I can’t remember. It’s been that long,” Phillips said. “It’s been before Redsfest [in December]. I heard my agent was going to come down here and talk to them during Spring Training. Hopefully they can get some things done. Like I’ve said, this is where I want to be. I’m not trying to break the bank or nothing like that. I don’t want Prince Fielder money or nothing like that. I just want to be within the other second basemen. That’s what I’ve asked for.”

Would Phillips set a deadline to stop negotiations so he can concentrate on playing?

“Not really,” he repled. I don’t see myself saying anything like that. I would really love to hear what they’ve got to say. I am not going to let it bother me. They’re going to be talking to my agent more than myself. My agent will bring it to my attention. I’m going to be worried about hitting the ball and catching the ball. That’s what it’s all about. I’m not an agent. Even though if I wasn’t a baseball player, I’d be an agent.”

 

Rotation order? Mum’s the word

*Dusty Baker has a rotation order in mind after No. 1 starter Johnny Cueto. But he’s not telling…

“There’s no need to,” Baker said. “I’ve got it figured out. I had it figured out this winter.”

The five-man rotation has six contenders. Besides Cueto, there is Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey and Aroldis Chapman.

“The only thing that changes my mind is – right now we’ve got six,” Baker said. “What will change my mind is when we boil it down to five. And God forbid, you hope nobody gets hurt this spring because that would definitely change your mind and change your rotation. That’s what changed our rotation last year, especially when Johnny and Homer went down from the very beginning.

“You’ve always got a Plan A, always. You just hope you don’t get to Plan F.”

*As mentioned the other day, Jay Bruce is visibly lighter after dropping 15 pounds. That will require some adjustments to Bruce’s hitting style.

“He has a new body,” Baker said. “He’s going to have to learn what he can do with that new body, especially hitting. His trunk rotation will be a lot more compact, a lot more powerful. Consequently, he’ll have to learn he can wait longer now because he has less trunk to rotate.”

The club did not order Bruce to slim down.

“He was never fat. He just wasn’t suave and cut,” Baker said. “We’ll see. Everybody doesn’t necessarily have to be suave and cut. Some guys play better with a little baby fat on them. I’ve seen that too. I’ve seen guys we’ve put weight back on, guys that I played with. One guy was Fernando. He lost all this baby fat and wasn’t throwing anything so we had to fatten him back up again.”

*Look for a story on Homer Bailey later today. Unlike Bruce, he padded on 15 pounds.

“I wanted to be a little bit stronger and I wanted to see if it would make going through a whole season a little easier,” Bailey said. “It’s something I did on my own. I met a nutritionist and got to eat a lot.”

*Early arrivals: Drew Stubbs entered the clubhouse today. Brandon Phillips tweeted that he was in Phoenix and planned to get to the complex.

Day 3 of camp in pictures

There was a little less going on today as pitchers were given the day off from throwing in the bullpen. They just did the drills like fielding comebackers to the mound and covering first base for the 3-6-1 double play. Some of the early arrivals took batting practice like Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Chris Heisey and Zack Cozart.

Here are a few pictures from Tuesday:

Reds manager Dusty Baker surveys the scene.

 

Bronson Arroyo warming up at the start of the workout

 

Mike Leake covering first base

 

Logan Ondrusek

 

Jay Bruce

Baker on Chapman, Mesoraco

It’s day three of Spring Training and so far it’s been three picture postcard days around the West Valley of Greater Phoenix. I know they need rain out here, but I won’t complain if it doesn’t come. We saw enough rain in Cincinnati all winter and last year.

Without further adieu, here are some news and notes.

*According to Dusty Baker it sounds as though the Aroldis Chapman situation is fluid this spring. Baker did not rule out the possiblity of Chapman being part of the bullpen even though he is transitioning to starting.

“We are going to stretch him out to see and to see if there is time,” Baker said on Tuesday. “If there is not time, or not quality, then you can always put the guy back in the bullpen. We would have had an answer now if things had gone according to plan – instructional league, fall league, Puerto Rico. But it barely got through the instructional league and into the fall league when they shut him down. His arm wasn’t ready to do that yet.”

*After the injuries of last spring to Cueto and Bailey, Baker likes having the depth of a stretched out Chapman for the rotation this spring. If Chapman does not make the club, Baker was asked if the lefty could go to Triple-A and start.

“I don’t know,” Baker replied. “We have to see when we get there. It depends on our needs. I’m not opposed to going with three lefties in the bullpen, not at all. Some of these decisions are mine but not all my decisions only.”

*On whether Devin Mesoraco is, or can be, the Reds’ No. 1 catcher out of camp, Baker said this:

“I don’t know. He’s one of two. Eventually, he’s going to be No. 1.”

*Pitching coach Bryan Price was pleased to see Homer Bailey put on about 15 pounds in the off-season.

“I think it was a good idea,” Price said. “The key is the strength. I anticipated if he worked harder in the weight room, there would be some benefits to weight gain that conincides with that.”

*Mike Leake had an interesting off-season. He and his family went to Peru and they climbed Macchu Picchu.

“It was very cool to see another part of the world,” Leake said. “My family has always been adventurous.”

*More early arrivals I’ve seen so far this morning: Willie Harris, Denis Phipps.

Good eats in and around Goodyear

I’m no tourism expert and I don’t have the same free time the average snowbird might have when they choose to visit their favorite team’s camp. But for my money (correction, MLB.com’s money that underwrites my journey), the best Spring Training destination is Arizona. No question.

Arizona has its collection of 15 teams closer together with trips between sites that are no more than 45 minutes. A majority of the road trips are 15-30 minutes. The Reds take batting practice at their own place and can hop on a bus and be ready to go at 1:05.

The weather is consistently better here than in Florida. While it starts out chilly, the days are usually dry, sunny and pleasant. Obviously, there is no beach here and that is the one thing I miss from the Sarasota/Siesta Key days on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Goodyear Ballpark is a very pleasant place to watch a game, but there certainly needs to be some development around the facility to make it more attractive for visitors.

I certainly know the economy, airline tickets and gasoline prices make coming out here tough for most families. But if you’re able to make a trip this year, or whenever, I have a few suggestions about where to eat, drink and be merry. Many of the items are back from the first annual version of the list last year but there are some new ones.

It’s not hard to get around out here and the roads are easy to figure out…but you definitely will need a car to get around greater Phoenix.

Dining suggestions:

Culinary Dropout – Scottsdale: I didn’t eat here during Spring Training last year but it was highly recommended. I got to try it in April during the Reds’ road trip out here. It was extraordinary. I rarely eat fried chicken but since I was told it was the way to go — I ordered it and it was the best fried chicken I ever ate (came with mashed potatoes and a biscuit). The menu has a nice culinary twist on some basic comfort foods and the ambiance is great. There was an acoustic band playing on the small stage there as well. Not an easy place to get a table though and it can be a little pricey.

Raul and Theresa’s: One of the best Mexican restaurants I’ve ever been to and it’s not a chain, but they have opened a second location since last spring. Both are about 10 minutes from Goodyear Ballpark. The prices are very reasonable too.

In-N-Out Burger: A west coast hamburger mecca with multiple locations. It’s basically only burgers — no chicken nuggets, fish filets etc. However, they do have a secret menu you can likely find online. Things like animal style fries, and grilled cheese can be ordered.

NYPD Pizza: Many places pay lip service to the notion of being New York style. Most places outside of New York get it wrong. Not this one. This is thin crust and legitimate New York style pizza.

Rokerij, Phoenix: A very nice, but not kid friendly, restaurant. It is a great “date night” kind of place but be prepared for a wait. It’s a unique combination of Dutch-Southwestern smokehouse food. It’s sister restaurant, Richardson’s, that burned down a few years ago has re-opened next door I’ve heard.

Don and Charlies, Scottsdale: An iconic local eatery that will remind Cincinnatians of Montgomery Inn. It has tons of sports memorabilia (mostly from Chicago) and specialize in steaks and ribs. The food isn’t the greatest quite honestly and I discourage you greatly from ordering the Ned Colleti chicken schnitzel. He should sue to have his name removed from that item in fact. You’ll definitely need a reservation for this place because the waits are long.

Frasher’s, Scottsdale: another steak place but it’s main thing is St. Louis style meals and pizza.

Majerle’s Sports Grill: There are a few locations including one in Goodyear. It is my favorite sports bar around here. It has good food and it’s a great spot during NCAA Tournament time.

Oregano’s — multiple locations: They do thin crust pizza and thick crust Chicago-style pizza. It’s pretty good and they have sizeable hoagies. Their meatball sandwich could last one a couple of days. I’ve only been to the Old Scottdale location, which I read is moving down the street to an old farm house.

Pizzeria Bianco, downtown Phoenix: I got to try this with some other writers during the All-Star game. It’s very strong with wood-fired individual pizzas. Caution — the place is tiny and it can be hard to get a table. They do have service at the bar.

The Tee Pee — two locations: Very good Mexican food and funky atmosphere with kitschy items spread around. There is one in downtown Phoenix but I went to the one on 42nd Ave and Indian School Rd.

Joe’s Farm Grill, Gilbert: This one is a major hike but if you like seeing places featured on Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives, you might think it’s worth the trip. It’s super kid friendly and has good burgers, fries, chicken fingers, shakes, etc. It’s in a neat old-school looking building and part of a working farm with fresh ingredients. It will take a good hour-plus to get there from Goodyear though. Make sure you get the onion rings.

Senor Taco: down the road from Goodyear Ballpark and they have very large burritos. It’s quasi fast food though, unlike Raul and Theresa’s.

Pei Wei, multiple locations: Same food and owners as PF Chang’s but you order at the counter and they bring it out.

Taste of Italy: A one-minute drive from the Reds’ complex, they do pizza by the slice and it’s good. And cheap. Two slices and a soda for $5.

Corleone’s, Tempe: Right off campus from Arizona State University…they know how to do a decent cheesesteak. It’s fast food though, but cheap.

America’s Taco Shop, three locations: I went to the one near Chase Field with my friend and colleague, Jesse Sanchez, last season. Great carne asada tacos and a neat little restaurant. The owner’s name is America, it’s not proclamaming itself as the country’s official taco place.

Yogurtland, multiple locations:  Great dessert spot with about 15-20 different yogurt flavors. It’s all self-serve and there’s around 30 toppings to choose from. You do it all yourself and pay according to the weight of your cup on the scale.

From Nick, the Reds’ Goodyear intern that hails from here…a couple of added suggestions:

Dillon’s BBQ, Peoria: This one is about 15-20 minutes from Goodyear. It’s on my list to try in the coming days. From what I hear from someone else, it’s very good.

Bison Witches Bar & Deli, Tempe, — A small neighborhood hangout that features gourmet deli sandwiches, bread bowl soups, salads, appetizers, and a full service bar with tableside service.

You will notice that I did not include seafood or sushi type places. I’m sure there are good ones, but I absolutely hate seafood so I can be of no help. Sorry…

Some things to do in the area:

Camelback Mountain: I tried this hike in 2010 and only made it about three-quarters of the way. The views are stunning, even if you don’t reach the top.

Piestewa Peak: It’s the area’s second highest mountain peak in the area behind Camelback. It’s a little shorter and less steep of a climb than Camelback as well. Last year I did reach the top and it was great view of the valley.

Phoenix Zoo: I’ve took my family there last year we all came away quite impressed. The animals were perky and actually do more than lay around. There’s a cool wide open area called the Sanctuary where you see a bunch of animals roaming and you can feed the giraffes. It’s right near the Papago Park area where the A’s spring ballpark is located.

Westgate — Glendale: It’s like Newport on the Levee, times 100. Lots of restaurants and bars and the Jobing.com Arena is also on site for Phoenix Coyotes NHL games and concerts. Free parking, even for the hockey games. The Arizona Cardinals football stadium is next door and you’ll see it from miles away.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park — Goodyear: Only about 10 minutes from the complex. They have good playsets for the kids but also a bunch of hiking trails. It’s a pretty remote place and definitely desert terrain.

Goodyear Community Park: Also a good kids spot to let them run around and play.

Sedona: It’s two hours away but certainly worth the drive. Don’t forget to bring a camera. The mountain peak views and red rocks are simply spectacular. The town itself is a little touristy for me but the surroundings are a living postcard.

The Grand Canyon: It’s a four-hour drive from here. I’ve never been but it’s on my bucket list. From what I hear and saw in the 1991 movie “Grand Canyon,” it should be on everyone’s bucket list.

And of course, there is baseball and lots of it. If you can’t see the Reds in Goodyear for some reason, there are plenty of ways to see them at the other ballparks. Be sure to check the schedule.

More pictures

I just saw Jay Bruce doing some jump rope outside, so mark him down as an early arrival to camp. I also saw Paul Janish enter the clubhouse since my earlier post.

The workouts are a little shorter in the first few days. Three different bullpen groups threw this morning. The rest of the guys rotating around field to field practicing fielding drills or taking BP.

Below are some pictures from the bullpen sessions.

In the middle wearing No. 55 is Mat Latos

Homer Bailey

Aroldis Chapman

The catchers on the other side of the 'pen

 

Early arrival Jay Bruce jumping rope

Cueto for Opening Day

Some quick news and notes to get you started on President’s Day…

*Dusty Baker is planning on having Johnny Cueto start on Opening Day vs. the Marlins. No surprise there after Cueto’s performance in 2011.

“Yeah, probably so. I’ve got an idea,” Baker said. “It’s how you want to match them up during the season. I know how important Opening Day is in Cincinnati. It’s more important in Cincinnati than any place I’ve been. But you end up having to match up against No. 1’s the rest of the year. If we’re just going on veteran status, it’d be Bronson [Arroyo]. But I think Bronson would be better down in the rotation.”

*I talked to SS Zack Cozart today and will have more later. Cozart said the doctor yesterday and it confirmed his feeling that he was 100 percent ready to go and able to compete to be the starting shortstop. Cozart was limited to 11 big league games after a collision resulted in a left elbow injury and Tommy John surgery.

*Like on Sunday, the pitchers are throwing 45 pitches or 15 minutes for their bullpen sessions. Today’s bullpen schedule includes Cueto, Arroyo, Chapman, Bailey, Latos and LeCure.

*Position players are starting to roll in early, or have been here. They include Cozart, Valaika, Frazier, Heisey, Francisco and Valdez.

*Baker said that Francisco was getting treatment for a sore calf. It’s the same left calf that Francisco injured last season and also tweaked during winter ball.

More later…

The sights from Goodyear

Here are some pictures from Sunday’s first workout for Reds pitchers and catchers…

 

 

No contract talk from Dusty

Good morning from Goodyear and the day you’ve all been waiting for — Reds pitchers and catchers report. Right now, they’re all busy taking physicals, but there was some time to chat with manager Dusty Baker after he completed his physical.

Sticking to something he said at the Winter Meetings, Baker said he isn’t going to discuss his contract situation with the club. For the second time in three years, his contract is up at the end of the season — making him a so-called “lame duck manager.”

Baker said Sunday he has no plans to manage differently because of the contract or any potential heat or pressure it brings.

“What kind of factor can it be?” Baker said. “Like I’ve said before, how many people have a one year contract, period? You know how many times I’ve been in this situation? I’ve been in it four, five or six times, whatever it is. You just have to keep proving yourself I guess. Some people do and some people don’t. I’m one of the guys that seems like he has to, to keep proving myself. At this point very little bothers me. I’m secure in myself, secure in my ability, secure in my family, secure in my life. The thing this year is to try and have as much productivity and enjoyment.”

Now an elder statesman of the league, Baker is fourth in tenure with the same NL team, behind Bud Black (2007 with SD), Bruce Bochy (2007 with SF) and Charlie Manuel (2005 with PHI).

“How many people have the opportunity and ability to stick around that long?” Baker said. “Evidently it doesn’t mean much to some people but it means a lot to me. I remember year no. 1. I’ve had some great years, some bad years, some years of ups and downs. It boils down to the more talent you have, the better your chances are. I genuinely like this team. I like the vibe and spirit of this team. This is just the beginning.

“I had a good friend die this winter, a couple of them. I had a good friend’s son die a week ago here, in a trampoline accident. You ask me if I am going to do anything differently, if I’m worried…when that happens, it puts things in the proper perspective.”

Better late than never…

After some travel issues I will not bore you with in great detail, I am finally in Arizona….about seven hours late. Therefore, I was unable to make it out to the Reds complex to see what’s going on, etc. I know players get out there ahead of the report date but everything starts cooking in earnest on Sunday.

I will be there bright and early and try to get some stuff for the day you have all been anticipating. In the meantime, the pictures below are the only tangible evidence I can offer that I am actually in Arizona and not in Cincinnati.

 Back in a few hours…

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