August 2012

Chapman featured on MLB Network

Greetings from Atlanta, where I am connecting on a flight back from Arizona. I will not be in Houston for the next series, beginning on Friday.

Thanks for the feedback on the previous blog post. Like I said, everybody has the right to their opinion about their favorite team. While I don’t have a favorite team, I am entitled to my opinion too. Glad it prompted mostly courteous responses.

With that behind us, below is a feature on a Reds pitcher that everyone should agree is having a fantastic season: Aroldis Chapman. The closer was featured on MLB Network the other night.

80 wins

I know I’m just a silly baseball beat writer, but I have to be honest: I don’t get all the handwringing over the daily lineups from the Reds. Is having two struggling guys with below .300 on-base percentages optimal? Heck no. I wouldn’t prescribe that formula for any team.

But here’s the thing, it’s working for this team. Liking lineups isn’t supposed to be what the team or manager is judged by when you get to the bottom line — it’s wins and losses. Am I wrong about that? I don’t think I am. By the way, I think Brandon Phillips will return to the leadoff spot Saturday when Joey Votto returns.

The Reds might be 0-132 this season when it comes to people liking Dusty Baker’s lineups but after Wednesday’s 6-2 win over Arizona, the Reds are 80-52, which is the best record in baseball and its the club’s fastest to 80 wins since 1976. (That was a good season for that club, right?). Whether or not Baker is given a contract extension won’t come down to that he bats Drew Stubbs first or second, he will be judged by the team’s record. Most of the time, that’s how it should be. If the Reds reach the playoffs and this lineup prevents them from winning or advancing, then it  can be judged in the final outcome. But I don’t think this is the lineup we’ll see if everyone is healthy. The lineup is the way it is, partly because there aren’t many other options.

For the record, I think Ryan Hanigan should be batting eighth. I get that Hanigan has a.290 average and .382 OBP this season and that it’s way above what the top two guys are doing. But has anyone figured out yet that maybe that’s because Hanigan also benefits from hitting ahead of the pitcher? He has 38 walks, but 12 are intentional. Who knows how many other times pitchers worked around him, got into hitters’ counts that Hanigan could attack. Hanigan is a good hitter, but he’s not here to hit. His No. 1 priority is to catch and that he’s done that just about better than anyone in the NL. His hitting higher up means more at-bats, more running the bases if he gets on and that means wearing out faster. Catching beats guys up enough without the extra stuff. Sure, there are exceptions — Yadier Molina, Buster Posey and Joe Mauer to name three — but with all due respect, Hanigan isn’t as accomplished a hitter as those guys. He is good though. Could he score from first base on a double? Probably not often and that has to be a consideration too.

Hanigan starts three times out of every five games. Who would bat second when he’s not in there? He has shown historically he fades when worn down or playing too much. This is the first season he’s had where he hasn’t been on the DL or missed extended time with an injury. Does anyone get credit for playing it just right?

Fans have every right to complain about anything they want when it comes to their favorite team. It’s democracy in action and there’s nothing wrong with discourse when it’s done respectfully and thoughtfully. But what I’m seeing lately from some defies logic. Is the lineup you don’t like really preventing you from enjoying the wins or the team having baseball’s best record?

Managing is more than just writing out a lineup card. It’s knowing the personalities of the players, knowing the best matchups for hitters vs. pitchers and who needs rest because they’re looking sluggish. Does Dusty Baker get it right every time? No — I know of few managers that do. But this season, he’s done an exemplary job of managing his 25 people and has had the right touch on many situations beyond the lineups (rotation, bullpen for example). And that’s a big reason the Reds are where they are right now.

The Three Stars:

No. 3 star: Patrick Corbin, ARI — 6.2 ip, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 87 pitches/61 strikes. Corbin retired seven of his first eight batters and 16 of 18 and had a 2-0 lead for the first six innings. Then the Reds figured him out in the seventh with home runs by Chris Heisey and Dioner Navarro.

“He comes into the inning with 72 pitches I’m not really thinking about yanking him, he was in total control of the game and it got away from him quick,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.

No. 2 star: Chris Heisey — 2-for-4, 2 HRs, 3 RBIs — Heisey sent a 3-1 Corbin pitch to the deepest part of the ballpark in left-center field for his first homer.

“I finally got a good count to hit in,” Heisey said. “I was sitting on a fastball and he threw it. It felt good to hit a home run. It’s been a while.”

Heisey hit a 3-2 slider from Matt Albers for a solo homer in the eighth. It was the fourth multi-homer game of his career.

No. 1 star: Mat Latos — 7 ip, 5 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 7 K, balk, plus two hits as a batter that gives him a six-game hitting streak. Latos survived a 34-pitch first inning where his balk allowed the first run to score. But he stayed tough and refocused his energies.

“He was probably amped up a little bit,” Dusty Baker said. “He was high in the zone and then he started getting the ball down and getting his breaking ball over. That’s what happens when you settle down.”

 

8/29 at ARI

Reds lineup vs. D-backs

Cozart 6
Stubbs 8
Phillips 4
Bruce 9
Frazier 5
Heisey 7
Cairo 3
Navarro 2
Latos 1

*UPDATE – When asked about the Reds still scoring five runs while the top two of Cozart and Stubbs combined to go 0-for-10, Reds manager Dusty Baker wasn’t looking backwards. He also seemingly had a message for people critical of his daily lineups.

“That was yesterday. Today it could be them,” Baker said. “As long as it’s somebody. Everybody is looking for the perfect team, the perfect lineup. There aren’t any. Even the mighty Yankees aren’t perfect. We have a better record than they do. The Yankees, the Dodgers and some of these teams, their payrolls is twice as much as ours trying to get perfect and it’s still not perfect. The name of the game is win. You’re always going to try to find something you’re not doing. It depends on how your outlook in life is. Are you a half-empty or half-full person? I find that most people are half-empty people. I don’t deal with them. I don’t listen to them.”

*Joey Votto came out of Tuesday’s rehab game at Class A Dayton OK, but reported some soreness. He is still slated to play tonight and it’s still likely he’ll rejoin the Reds on Saturday.

*Thursday will give the Reds their third off day in the second half. Because of the doubleheader vs. the Cubs on Aug. 18, they’ve had a stretch of 34 games in 34 days. There will be four off days in September, however.

*On Thursday at 9 p.m. ET, the Reds will be featured on NBC Sports Network/MLB Productions new series “Caught Looking.” The production crews shot their stuff all last weekend as the Reds and Cardinals played. I was interviewed, but I don’t know if I will make the cut.

 

Cueto first to 17 wins

The Three Stars from a Reds 5-2 win over the D-backs on Tuesday night:

No. 3 star: Wade Miley, ARI — 7 ip, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 K, 107 pitches/78 strikes. Miley survived a 33-pitch, three-run second inning and settled in to retire a stretch of 14 out of 15. Fifteen of the pitches in the second were to Scott Rolen in a tough battle. This is Todd Frazier’s main obstacle in the battle for NL Rookie of the Year.

“That was a tough inning, Wade did a really good job actually, 33 pitches in the inning,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “Did a really good job of really limiting that damage. He did a great job with the situation. It wasn’t a good break, it just didn’t fall our way that inning. He managed that inning as good as you can manage it, seriously. Damage control was excellent. I mean it wasn’t really fair but in the Reds defense, Wade couldn’t really get the ball down in that inning. The balls were elevated and they were hitting them off the bat and falling. Then he got the ball down and they turned into groundballs and swings and misses. He was struggling early but that was a crappy inning for us.”

No. 2 star: Todd Frazier, 2-for-4, two-run triple — Frazier has reached base safely in his last 21 games. He had a broken bat single off of Miley to kickstart the second inning. His two-run triple to the wall in left-center iced the game.

“When opportunity comes, you have to step up and do your thing,” Frazier said.

No. 1 star: Johnny Cueto — 7 ip, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 K, 105 pitches/76 strikes. The Cy Young Award credentials get better and better. Now MLB’s first 17-game winner, Cueto is 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA over his last four starts and 8-1 with a 2.69 ERA in his last 10 starts. Out of his 27 starts, he’s allowed two runs or less in 19 of them. At 17-6, Cueto also leads the NL with a 2.48 ERA.

“The last outing, I was feeling really well. I couldn’t go harder than that,” Cueto said. “It was the other way around with this outing. I was really tired and really heavy today. But that’s how things go in this game.”

Click here for the game story.

News and notes:

*The top two hitters in the order, Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs combined to go 0-for-10 in the game. Cozart is in a 0-for-18 stretch.

*After a leadoff walk, Aroldis Chapman converted save No. 33 and his 25th in a row.

*The Reds have a 79-52 record, which is now the best in baseball. A Cardinals 9-0 loss to the Pirates means the Reds picked up a game and lead by seven with 31 to go.

Votto 0-for-1

Joey Votto’s first rehab assignment game is done at Class A Dayton. Votto was lifted in the fifth inning after he was 0-for-1 with a strikeout and a walk.

“That I’m able to play tonight speaks to the progress I’ve made,” Votto told reporters in Dayton before the game. “I’m happy that I am finally back out on the field playing with the team and I’m able to play in a game. I’m not 100 percent yet, but usually when you do your rehab games, you aren’t.”

*Dusty Baker expects to have Votto back with the Reds on Saturday, aka Sept. 1 when rosters are allowed to expand.

“Then you’d have to send somebody out and you couldn’t get them back for x-amount of time,” Baker said. “Every game is important but at the same time, you have to do what’s important, what’s best for the team. I’d like to have Joey back yesterday if I could get him.”

*In other news semi-related, you can eliminate shortstop as a possible position for Todd Frazier as Baker will look to mix and match with him around the field. Frazier will not be spelling Zack Cozart.

“I have a true shortstop in Wilson [Valdez]. You can’t just put guys some place,” Baker said. “It’s going to cost you defensively. You’ve seen how close our games are. You cannot give away outs. It’s not fair to put a guy out there in a position where he doesn’t belong. We tried that last year with [Yonder] Alonso.”

*RHP Nick Masset, who suffered a setback last week during his rehab assignment at Triple-A Louisville, got bad news. His latest MRI, taken over the weekend, showed no improvement from a previous MRI test taken in April. Masset has been shut down.

“The lucky part is we don’t treat the MRI, we treat the symptoms,” head trainer Paul Lessard said. “His strength is tremendous. But still on occasion, he’s having generalized soreness. It’s not in a specific spot where he has it. We’re trying to get everything calmed down and keep strengthening.”

Lessard wouldn’t speculate on what’s next for Masset, game wise, but with the Minor League season close to wrapping up, it’s a good assumption this setback might have erased any shot Masset had to pitch for the Reds this season.

8/28 at ARI

Reds lineup vs. D-backs

Cozart 6
Stubbs 8
Phillips 4
Ludwick 7
Frazier 3
Rolen 5
Heisey 9
Hanigan 2
Cueto 1

*Joey Votto’s rehab assignment begins tonight at Class A Dayton.

*Here’s an interesting tidbit out of the Reds game notes: the Reds’ bullpen leads the Major Leagues in ERA (2.81) and averages 10.06 strikeouts per 9 innings, which according to Elias Sports Bureau would be the highest season average for a relief staff in Major League history.

*LHP Wade Miley is going against Johnny Cueto tonight. This could be a very enjoyable matchup. And for a matchup inside the matchup, the two leading candidates for NL Rookie of the Year will be in opposition between Miley and Todd Frazier. Not that the outcome of one game will settle who might win it, but fun nonetheless.

Arroyo does it all

Apologies for a very abridged Three Stars after a 3-2 Reds win.

No. 3 star: Aroldis Chapman — 1 ip, 32nd save. It was also the 24th consecutive save for Chapman, which set a new single-season club record.

“Just keep on going,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “He hadn’t pitched in four or five days. That’s why we saved Broxton yesterday. We were sort of spent in our bullpen. Broxton was fresh throwing 95-97 and Chapman was fresh. It’s always good when you have fresh arms there.”

No. 2 star: Justin Upton, ARI — 2-for-4, HR, 2 RBIs. Upton took Bronson Arroyo deep to LF in the second inning and had a RBI single in the fourth.

No. 1 star: Bronson Arroyo — 6 ip, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 3 K, 99 pitches/65 strikes. Arroyo, who is 4-0 with a 2.86 ERA over his last four starts, also hit the game-winning HR in the top of the sixth, which came after both a very solid eight-pitch at-bat and a correctly overturned call by the umpires. The ball originally appeared to hit the top of the ball and was waved off for a homer. Instant replay showed that it hit a railing beyond the fence. It was Arroyo’s sixth career homer.

“We just knew that ball ricocheted too hard to just hit off the wall there,” Baker said. “Thank God for instant replay. That was the game winner.”

Quote:

“Things are kind of working out a little bit. I’ve been feeling good but I’ve been feeling good all year. Early on, I just didn’t get some breaks or some runs in key situations. Lately, I’m getting runs late in the game when you need them to give you a chance to hold the lead and give it to the bullpen. Sometimes things just have to fall into place and they’ve been falling into place the last six weeks.” — Arroyo on his recent streak on the mound.

Read the game story

8/27 at ARI

Reds lineup vs. D-Backs

Stubbs 8
Valdez 6
Phillips 4
Ludwick 7
Bruce 9
Frazier 3
Rolen 5
Hanigan 2
Arroyo 1

Reds drop two of three to STL

Is losing by an 8-2 score to the Cardinals and dropping two out of three mean the end of the Reds and civilization as we know it? Probably not. But that was a series that they really didn’t need to lose.

A team like the Cardinals, which just made a big comeback in the standings last season, don’t need any more reasons to believe in themselves and their chances. They are now six games back in the NL Central. The good news for the Reds is there is only one more series where they meet the Cardinals again — the final three days of the regular season at St. Louis. There are also only 33 games left for the Reds. They have the situation in their control and now, need to keep it that way.

Even though the Reds are hitting the road, this is a good chance to get things right. They are 26-20 lifetime at Chase Field, where they’ll meet the Diamondbacks Monday-Wednesday. Then after a much-needed off day Thursday, the trip moves to Houston. You know how the Astros are doing this season.

You can tell the Reds lack some spring in their step lately. No wonder. By the time they finish in Arizona on Wednesday, they will have played 34 games over 34 days with only one off day.

The Three Stars:

No. 3 star: Allen Craig, STL — 3-for-5, HR, 3 RBIs. Craig hit a two-run homer off of Homer Bailey in the sixth. He has 71 RBIs in 85 games this season.

No. 2 star: Adam Wainwright, STL — 5 2/3 ip, 6 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HBP, 90 pitches/65 strikes. Wainwright had the Reds buried over his first five scoreless innings, and faced the minimum over the first four innings. Until the sixth, he hadn’t let anyone get past first base. The only big challenge he had was a 12-pitch at-bat vs. Brandon Phillips in the fourth before Phillips flied out. He is 5-0 with a 1.23 ERA in his last five starts and hasn’t given up more than two runs in a start since July 13 vs. the Reds.

“It was just a slow game. You couldn’t fathom it. It was really slow,” Todd Frazier said of Wainwright. “It felt like he was lulling us to sleep I guess. He’s been doing it for a long time now. He knows what he’s doing.”

No. 1 star: Matt Holliday, STL — 4-for-5, four RBIs Holliday was a homer shy of the cycle but had himself some clutch hits. A two-out single to left field in the third scored two runs. In the seventh also with two outs, he helped put the game away with a RBI double to left field.

“I gave myself the whole at-bat, he just didn’t give me anything to hit,” said Holliday of going for the cycle. He singled in his final at-bat off of Jose Arredondo. “I’m not even sure the first one was a good pitch. I was going for it, but I didn’t get many pitches. He was pitching me pretty tough.”

Click here for the full game story

News and notes:

*Homer Bailey’s line: 6 ip, 9 H, 5 R, 0 BB, 3 K, 94 pitches/61 strikes. Bailey didn’t succeed at putting hitters away when he needed to and had five hits against him when there were two strikes. One of them was Jon Jay’s RBI single with one out and a 0-2 count. Another was Craig’s homer on a 1-2 pitch in the sixth. In the third, there were four-straight hits on the ground.

“That’s just the way it goes. I can hold my head up high,” Bailey said. “I threw the ball well. Four groundball singles in the third. I’m trying to get groundballs to roll a double play and keep it in the yard. I did my job. They found the holes. That’s a really good hitting team over there.”

*The 17 hits allowed by Reds pitchers was a new season high.

*Scott Rolen’s double in the seventh inning was career double No. 515, which tied him with Joe Cronin for 45th all time.

*The Reds are now 9-2-2 in series since the All-Star break. That’s still quite good.

Headed to Arizona….

8/26 vs. STL

Reds lineup vs. Cardinals

Cozart 6
Heisey 8
Phillips 4
Ludwick7
Bruce 9
Frazier 3
Rolen 5
Hanigan 2
Bailey 1

*Joey Votto is slated to begin a rehab assignment at Class A Dayton this week. If all goes ok, Dusty Baker said Votto could possibly rejoin the Reds for next weekend’s series at Houston.

Votto was told of the plan on Saturday.

“I’m a little apprehensive because I haven’t played in such a long time,” Votto said of his feelings about getting into games. “Once I get going, I will feel fine.”

Votto is continuing to make progress with his rehab and baseball activity.

“I’ve got a long way to go with my swing,” he said.

I will have a little more in my pre-game notebook later on Reds.com/MLB.com.

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