March 2012

Lineup tinkering, Ludwick, Votto

It’s another frigid day in Arizona, and it’s much warmer back in Cincinnati. Here are some notes

*With the exception of the top three spots, Dusty Baker has done quite a bit of tinkering with the 4-9 spots of his lineup this spring. He was asked if he was looking at some different possiblities.

“You’re always looking,” Baker replied. “You might be looking all through the season. It’s hard to come up with something set. Who might be hot early might not be hot later.”

*Scott Rolen is batting cleanup today and has been one of the hotter hitters in camp. Coming into camp, he seemed destined for the sixth spot. But if he does what the Reds hope he’ll do, that could affect the order’s makeup.

“That’s a major part of it,” Baker said of Rolen.

*Joey Votto entered today batting .200, which is typical for him at this point in Spring Training. Votto usually gets it going by the end.

“Joey takes a lot of pitches in Spring Training to see pitches,” Baker said. “Joey is looking at pitches he knows he can hit. That would be defeating his point and purpose right now. The more pitches he sees, the better timing he will get – breaking balls, off-speed, fastballs in.”

*Ryan Ludwick is off to a quasi-slow start, batting .231 (6-for-26) with two RBIs through 12 games entering today. Ludwick, a key acquisition to a one-year, $2.5 million contract, is confident he will be ready and hitting in time for the regular season.

“You can’t evaluate yourself too much until you get 40-50 at-bats at Spring Training,” Ludwick said. “Working with Mark McGwire [on the Cardinals], he said you try to get your rhythm or timing the first 20-30 at-bats. Then you see the ball and at 40-50, everything should come together.”

*I am writing a little feature about non-roster LHP Clay Zavada, who did not pitch well yesterday but has otherwise looked good in camp. Zavada has had a tough road and was knocked out of the game twice. Once in 2007 after his father died, he went home to Illinois to help on the family farm. And in 2010, he had Tommy John surgery and missed most of the season. I found this quote from Zavada to be pretty interesting.

“I’m excited for this year,” Zavada said. “Last year, I didn’t have the opportunity to fight for a job because of my surgery to really do anything. This year I have a fighting chance, which feels good. If you can’t fight, they’ll bury you. You have to scratch and claw every day. That’s how I’ve always worked – scratching, clawing and fighting every day. I don’t have the best stuff but you have to be a savage. It’s a ruthless game so you have to be ruthless – not as a person but out on the mound doing your work. You have to be an absolute, ruthless savage. Those guys in the box want to tear your head off.”

Basking in Sweet 16

Good morning. As a UC grad, this is certainly a great day to know the Bearcats have advanced to the Sweet 16 for a matchup vs. Ohio State. I remember very badly wanting some of the Huggins’ led teams in the 90′s to get a OSU game that never happened. Hopefully, this is a good one.

Big day for the area in general…UC, XU, OU, OSU, UK, IU are all still alive. It’s great for the region no matter who you root for.

Anyhoo — back to baseball. Road game just up the way at Camelback Ranch in Glendale.

Reds lineup vs. White Sox

Phillips 4
Cozart 6
Votto 3
Rolen DH
Heisey 9
Frazier 7
Francisco 5
Mesoraco 2
Phipps 8

Bailey 1

Also pitching: Masset, Ondrusek, Arredondo

Brrrrrrrr…..

It was a wild and wacky day in the wind and rain at Goodyear Ballpark as the Reds took an 8-7 loss to Arizona.

*A total of seven runs scored in the top of the sixth, with six going on the line of LHP Clay Zavada (four earned). While Zavada did not help himself with three walks, a one-out normally routine fly to center field by Ryan Roberts was lost in the sky and wind by Denis Phipps and landed for a RBI single. Then the runs poured in, including a bases-loaded triple by Cody Ransom.

“Zavada was probably a little over amped pitching against his former team,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “That sun came out and broke right at that time [on Phipps].”

*Sam LeCure gave up one unearned run in the sixth, after a two-base fielding error by 1B Miguel Cairo. LeCure survived the seventh after giving up three hits with no one scoring.

*The wind caused an interesting play in the third inning on a Willie Bloomquist pop up to the right side. Joey Votto was camped under the ball only to have it blow into right field. Brandon Phillips was backing up and made a last-second basket catch for the out.

*Scott Rolen’s hot spring continues. Rolen crushed a first-pitch from Joe Patterson in the fourth for a three-run homer to right field. He is batting .444 in spring.

*Mike Leake’s line: 4 ip, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K

“Leakie looked real good. He looked better today, a lot better,” Baker said.

*Sean Marshall had his third-straight scoreless outing. 1 ip, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K

*The Reds added two runs in the ninth, including one by Todd Frazier on a solo homer to left field. Frazier is making a superb bid to make the 25-man roster. He has four home runs this spring while batting .286.

*First pitch temperature: 53 degrees. That was pretty generous, if you ask me. It felt much colder, especially in the later innings. I heard it was pretty warm today in Cincinnati.

“It was a day of the elements,” Baker said. “We were very fortunate we got it in really. I didn’t think we had a chance.”

Attendance 3,963.

First cuts, plan for relievers

*The first round of roster cuts went down at Reds camp Sunday morning. Optioned out were IF Kristopher Negron, IF Neftali Soto, RHP Josh Judy; IF Didi Gregorius, IF Henry Rodriguez, RHP Pedro Villarreal; IF/OF Donald Lutz and RHP Kyle Lotzkar. Re-assigned to minor league camp C Tucker Barnhart, RHP Nick Christiani, RHP Daniel Corcino, C Brian Esposito, RHP Sean Gallagher, LHP Donnie Joseph, RHP Chad Reineke and RHP Brett Tomko.

I would say there are no surprises on the list of guys going out. It was a total of 16 players.

“This is probably the latest that we made the first cuts since I’ve been in baseball,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “A lot of it had to do with doubleheaders, scheduling and all that stuff. We sent out some guys that were very impressive. We don’t have room for everybody. The innings and at-bats are becoming shorter and shorter as you get closer to the end of spring and guys are playing more and playing longer.”

***UPDATE: Neftali Soto is a late addition to the list that wasn’t out this morning. He was optioned to Triple-A Louisville.

*RHP Nick Masset (right shoulder) is tenatively scheduled to pitch an inning on Monday when the Reds face the White Sox. LHP Bill Bray (groin) is going to throw on the side today. Bray and RHP Ryan Madson (right elbow) are slated to throw one inning each in a simulated game on Tuesday. They could both see some sort of game action this week. Madson threw 39 pitches in the bullpen on Saturday and felt good.

“Now it’s a matter of building up stamina for both of those guys,” pitching coach Bryan Price said of Bray and Madson. “Nick hasn’t missed that much time. His setback wasn’t extended. That’s why we feel comfortable putting him in a big league game. With Ryan and Bill, we’d like to have a controlled environment such as a minor league game.”

No DH today

Reds lineup vs. Diamondbacks

Phillips 4
Janish 6
Votto 3
Ludwick 7
Bruce 9
Rolen 5
Stubbs 8
Hanigan 2
Leake 1

*This is the first time the Reds haven’t made use of the DH.

*A whole lot of roster cuts are going down this morning. I will have the list for you when it comes out.

Nice day for Cozart

A few odds and ends from the Reds 9-2 win over the Indians on Saturday….

*Nice day for Zack Cozart, especially during the third inning. He led off the top half with a triple to the wall in left field. He ended the bottom half with a spectacular diving stop behind second base and made the throw to first on Carlos Santana’s hard grounder up the middle. Cozart added a three-run triple with two outs in the fourth inning. The second one was a little generous as it skipped through third baseman Andy LaRoche’s glove and went down the line past left fielder Matt LaPorta, who did not play the ball well as it rolled to the corner.

*Brandon Phillips got his money’s worth on his first home run of spring. The leadoff blast — on a 2-2 Ubaldo Jimenez pitch — was launched to left field over the fence, over the berm and beyond the outer fencing. We don’t get distance estimates for spring homers.

*Bronson Arroyo made it three solid starts in a row for the Reds rotation with 4 ip, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K. He threw 50 pitches, plus another 17 in the bullpen. Arroyo, who has a 6.00 ERA after three starts, was cognizant of the fact that Reds starter had been getting roughed up in the early going of games.

“Regardless of how long you’ve been playing the game and I know Spring Training has been going smooth for the whole team, you never want to see your starting pitchers get racked around a lot,” Arroyo said. “It gives a bad mood to the organization as far as the way things are headed, even though it doesn’t mean a whole lot. It was nice to go out there, get off to a good start and have nice lead and make everybody comfortable about what we’re doing out there.”

*Chris Heisey, who entered the day batting .115, was 2-for-2 today with a single to left field and an infield hit to the shortstop. Heisey also stole second and third base in the fourth inning.

*First pitch temperature: 73 degrees. The forecast indicates this could be the last warm day for a little while. It’s supposed to be a high of 59 with rain on Sunday.

*Attendance: 6,593

*After the game, I went back to the Reds complex, where LHP Bill Bray did a pretty cool thing. Bray shaved his head to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity committed to funding research and finding cures for childhood cancers. Bray’s 10-year-old cousin Trevor is current battling cancer and Bray wanted to do something to help. So far, the campaign for donations before the big shave raised over $3,600.

“The idea came when my cousin Trevor and his Dad called me and asked if I could donate a couple of baseballs and have some guys on the team sign them for a charity auction to go along with the St. Baldrick’s event,” Bray explained. “I said maybe I can do one better and shave my head and maybe raise some good money for the foundation.”

Ten-year-old Erin Bailey of Scottsdale, a cancer survivor herself, was selected by St. Baldrick’s to do the honors of shaving Bray’s head. There will be a story and video later on Reds.com/MLB.com.

Green hat day

It looks like the Reds are going with the green hats today….I can’t think of a reason why though.

Reds lineup vs. the Indians

Phillips 4
Cozart 6
Votto 3
Bruce 9
Francisco 5
Stubbs 8
Heisey 7
Mesoraco 2
Harris DH

Arroyo 1

*Dusty Baker is using a few veterans/regulars that played in the Friday night game. That’s for a purpose as things get to the second half of camp.

“It teaches your body how to rebound on a short night’s rest,” Baker said. “The rest of the time here, we rest them the day game after a night game.”

*Brett Tomko was pleased with his performance last night. He should be as he went 9 up, 9 down vs. the Rockies. He struck out the side in the sixth inning against Colorado.

“It’s always good when you don’t give up any runs. It doesn’t matter how it is,” said Tomko, a non-roster invite. “I’m in a different situation. I started throwing pretty early because I don’t have the luxury of working on things like working on my changeup. I had that time a long time ago. I had to come a little bit more prepared, more ready to go from the start.”

*After some rough pitching much of camp, the Reds have gotten back-to-back nice starts from Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos the last two games.

“That’s the key. Games we haven’t played well or performed well didn’t have good starting pitching,” Baker said. “It’s no secret. That’s where it starts. These guys are coming around. Keep remembering it’s how you finish, not how you start.”

*In RF at the end of Friday’s game, Donald Lutz saved the game for the Reds when his perfect throw to the plate nailed Chad Tracy to end the game, preventing the tying run from scoring.

“He gave us two nice plays out there. He’s been working hard, “Baker said. “Here’s a kid out of ‘A’ ball really playing his butt off and playing a lot.”

*Besides Lutz, Baker has liked the other younger guys in camp — mentioning INF Henry Rodriguez, SS Didi Gregorious and OF Daryl Jones.

“These guys are playing,” Baker said. “You want to see what they can do, and you want them to go where they’re going with a lot of confidence and feeling that ‘I’m close.’ As long as they don’t go down there and get the big league-itis and start acting different, which I warned them not to do. It’s a tremendous opportunity for these young guys, and they’re saving my veterans’ legs. Now it’s time for them to go pretty soon and my regular guys to build endurance playing and at-bats wise.”

*And speaking of young guys, OF Denis Phipps has three doubles in his last four at-bats.

Before you retire for evening

Since it’s very late on a Friday night in Cincinnati and there are NCAA games ongoing with two No. 2 seeds already falling (wow), I will bag the postgame notes blog and give it all to you now. I started writing as Drew Stubbs went deep with a three-run home run and the Reds sent 10 to the plate in a four-run second inning.

Here is what I know:

*Mat Latos has looked very good tonight. Latos was perfect the first two innings and finished with 4 ip, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 GIDP. I didn’t see any radar gun readings, but he was firing some serious gas at hitters.

*LHP Bill Bray and RHP Nick Masset each threw 30 pitches in the bullpen today with what head trainer Paul Lessard said was with “Very good intensity.” Lessard, Bryan Price and Dusty Baker still have to meet to go over the plan for both pitchers and closer Ryan Madson. Don’t be surprised to see these guys in games sometime next week though. They still likely have to get into simulated or minor league games first, however.

*Entering the night, the Reds were ranked 29th out of 30 teams in pitching with a 5.93 ERA and had dropped seven of eight games. Pitching here is a lot different than in Florida camps. The air is thinner, the balls are dryer and they carry a lot farther. Baker urged people to put these games in the right perspective.

“You like to do well and perform well but we put far too much importance on Spring Training and Spring Training results,” Baker said Friday. “This is called ‘training.’ Let’s not lose sight of that word. I bet nobody remembers who won the ERA title in spring or the batting title or who won the Cactus League championship. The Diamondbacks, they said last year, were the worst team in baseball. I remember them writing that they were an embarrassment.

“You’re in the process of sifting out who is going to be here, who is going to help you.”

*I did a feature that should be up soon on the mentoring relationship Bronson Arroyo has had with Mike Leake since Leake broke into the Majors in 2010. I thought this was an interesting quote from Arroyo:

“I didn’t even know his name when I told Dusty Baker I thought that kid would be pretty good,” Arroyo said. “I didn’t know anything about him and I hadn’t seen him throw a bullpen, nothing. There was something about the way he walked around here.”

*Before Friday’s game, 2012 Hall of Fame electee and Reds great Barry Larkin threw out a ceremonial first pitch. Former Reds star Eric Davis caught Larkin’s pitch while flanked by Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan. It’s just the start of likely many homages to Larkin this year. His actual induction to Cooperstown is July 22.

*Over in Phillies camp, ex-Reds LHP Dontrelle Willis was released today. Willis had a 16.88 ERA and four walks over 2 2/3 innings pitched in three games.

*First pitch temperature: 82 degrees.

Night ball

Reds lineup vs. Rockies

Stubbs 8
Janish 6
Votto 3
Rolen 5
Bruce 9
Ludwick 7
Rodriguez 4
Mesoraco DH
Hanigan 2

Latos 1

Reds fall to Angels

It’s usually only in spring when a team can say it’s lost three times within a just over 24-hour span. The Reds took a 3-1 loss to the Angels today in a game that lasted a brisk two hours and 13 minutes. They have dropped seven of their last eight games. For those who a fretting about that recent run of woe — don’t. No one will remember the spring records once April 5 rolls around.

*Reds pitching was much stronger today than in recent days, led by Johnny Cueto (4 ip, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 pickoffs, 1 GIDP).

“This is the one I feel best about this year so far,” said Cueto. “I was pretty much using all of my pitches to get ready for the season.”

“He threw the ball well,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “That first inning, the ball hit the line for a triple. He was almost out of that inning. Then he hung a curveball to Torii Hunter and that was it. That’s our longest outing by our starters – four innings – which is great this time of year.”

*Cueto was looked at by Baker and the trainer during the bottom of the second because he appeared to be bothered by his finger on his pitching hand.

“We were fearful it was the start of a blister, which you don’t want,” Baker said. “It’s so dry down here. When it’s dry like that, the ball feels rough and it feels abrasive on your fingers. But it was all good.”

*Sean Marshall now has back-to-back strong appearances. Marshall was 1 ip, 1 BB, 2 K.

*Jeff Francis worked the final three innings. 3 ip, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 K

*Albert Pujols was 0-for-3 with a double play in the third inning.

*Reds catcher Dioner Navarro caught the backswing of Pujols’ first-inning pop out and had to be looked over by the trainer. Navarro said he was fine.

*Wilson Valdez made his second appearance of spring in center field. Valdez, normally a utility infielder, can further improve his chances of making the club with the added versatility. He’s played only five games out of a career 362 in the outfield.

“I asked some scouts, friends of mine and scouts in our organization, they told me he was a fine center fielder,” Baker said. “You don’t find many utility guys that do both. The best one I played with was Derrel Thomas, who was equally as good at shortstop, second base and the outfield. And [Valdez] can throw.

“You hear things but that’s why you use Spring Training, to see for yourself.”

*First pitch temperature: 77 degrees

*Attendance: 9,337. It was a sellout.

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