February 2013

It does rain in Goodyear

rain 022013For the first time this year Spring Training, showers will curtail the Reds’ workouts at the complex. Drills on the field are likely wiped out, but there are indoor cages for hitting and a few of the bullpen mounds are covered so pitchers can get some work in.

“It’s a good day to work in the weight room,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “It’s a good day for maintenance work. You can always find something to do. It’s not an off day by any means.”

Here are some other quick items:

*The Reds still do not know if Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto will play in the World Baseball Classic. The deadline to finalize rosters is today. It’s unclear when the final rosters will be announced. Because of the event, Spring Training started a week earlier and Cactus League games start earlier — on Friday. The Reds have 37 exhibition games on their schedule, which is more than usual. Someone pointed out that’s essentially an extra week to increase the chance of an injury in camp. Baker, the eternal optimist, looked at from the other side.

“Or it’s a one-seventh chance that someone gets sharp,” Baker said. “Or a guy who is a slow starter gets one more look. Brandon [Phillips] being gone, or whoever may be gone, that’s more AB’s for someone to show us what they’ve got. There’s a plus side to it. I will have to play Brandon more innings to get him ready for the WBC so he doesn’t get hurt. Then I have to play him when he gets back so he and Cozart and whoever the utility guys are together on their exchange for double plays. Guys who haven’t played with Brandon might not know his range going out for fly balls. These are little things that can add to victories or lead to injuries. There are plusses and minuses. It all depends on how long they go.”

Then Baker added… “It will be mighty quiet without Brandon.”

About two seconds later, who could be heard singing outside of the manager’s office but Phillips — right on cue.

“See?” said Baker.

*Speaking of right on cue, Todd Frazier had another one of those cosmic moments on Tuesday that he seeemed to have throughout 2012. The Topps baseball card company dropped off dozens of its 2013 baseball card packs. A representative handed a random pack to Frazier, who opened it up and saw his card leading the stack.

“Bam! A Todd Frazier rookie card right on top,” Frazier said Wednesday morning. “We were laughing our butts off. It was right on cue.”

Cueto, Chapman in live BP

While there isn’t much that can be read into live BP sessions as pitchers have an advantage with a few more days at camp, it’s still fun to get to watch. I was able to be behind the cage as Johnny Cueto faced Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick and Tucker Barnhart. No one made serious contact and Cueto threw a nice changeup to Ludwick and got Votto to ground a slider in front of the mound.

Later on another field was the latest reminder that Chapman can a force of nature. After a couple of warm-up pitches, Chapman fired a changeup to catcher Miguel Olivo, who could be heard muttering “damn” to himself. Yes, I said Chapman “fired” a changeup because even that had some heat. No one made any real hard contact against him during the session.

Needing to have more than a fastball to make a successful transition to the rotation, it appears Chapman has expanded his bag of tricks. Besides the fastball and changeup, he had a slider, a two-seam fastball and also showed a split-fingered fastball. If he gets that pitch honed, he could be very tough as a starter.

Also throwing live BP today were Sean Marshall, Homer Bailey, Manny Parra, Jose Arredondo, Alfredo Simon and Jonathan Broxton.

Here are some photos from Tuesday’s workout and live BP:

Early items: Heisey, Hannahan

We’re off an running this Tuesday. Another round of live BP is on the agenda with pitchers like Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman and Homer Bailey slated to pitch.

*Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo will not throw live BP but have a bullpen session off of the mound instead.

*Dusty Baker was asked if he would use Chris Heisey as a late game defensive replacement for Shin-Soo Choo in center field. The answer was probably not.

“In my opinion, I think Heisey is a better corner man,” Baker said. “If Heisey had been a center fielder or a leadoff man, we wouldn’t have to get Choo. He can play [center field] in a pinch. Heisey has a lot of effort. He’ll probably play center field on days Choo doesn’t play.”

Heisey made 36 starts in left field and 34 in center field last season.

*As the luck of numerical order worked out, three players that had been with the Indians locker side-by-side in the Reds spring clubhouse. It’s Jack Hannahan (No. 9), Jason Donald (No. 16) and Shin-Soo Choo (No. 17).

“We’ve been getting a hard time from everybody else,” Hannahan said. “It’s good to see some familiar faces.”

Hannahan played 96 games at third base last season for Cleveland, including 80 starts. He has been taking groundballs at other infield spots as well. Baker has friends that have known Hannahan for a long time and got the report on him. Cincinnati signed Hannahan as a free agent in December to a two-year, $4 million contract.

“He has great hands, I know that. He can play first, third and at shortstop in a pinch,” Baker said. “We got some word out of Cleveland that he was as sure-handed a guy as they’ve ever seen. They say he’s a good team guy. I think he’s going to enjoy our league. In the American League if you’re an extra guy, you don’t play much because there are no double switches. Unless you start, you don’t play.”

*I will have a lot more on Hannahan later today in a story on MLB.com/Reds.com.

*LHP Manny Parra was one of the final players added in the off-season when he was signed to a one-year, $1 million contract. Baker likes the idea of having a second lefty for his bullpen.

“I’ll take three if they’ve got them,” Baker said. “You don’t have to just wait for the one situation to use your lefty. You can use one early and save one for later. That’s why I like to break up my left-handers in the lineup. If they have one, they can just use them for the right time. If they have two or three, they can use them every time they come up. You have to have a good lefty. A bad lefty is no better than a good righty.”

Morning items: Votto, Latos

Good Monday morning…. the players are currently having their annual clubhouse meeting with the Goodyear police department about staying safe this spring. So it’s a little quiet at the moment around the Reds complex.

Here are some notes out of the session with manager Dusty Baker:

Has Baker seen anything with Joey Votto’s knee that didn’t look right?

“He looks like Joey to me,” Baker said. “I’m not really worried about Joey. Joey works. A guy that works is a guy that heals. Unless I see something contrary to what I think, no sense worrying about something that isn’t there or causing him to worry. They didn’t sign Joey to a 10-year contract because he’ll hit only one year. Joey is going to hit. He’s one of the best around. Once you’ve won the MVP and once you’re an All-Star, you expect that.”

Personally, I have not noticed Votto limping or showing any signs he is hurting. The other day, he walked by in the clubhouse and suddenly went into a pretend limp using his bat as a cane — joking, of course.

*Reds starter Mat Latos was displaying a limp on his right ankle, which he has injured in camp. He’s still doing drills with the ankle taped up. It’s not expected to be serious.

“It’s better to get hurt early than in the last week of spring,” Baker said.

*One of the most competitve battles in this camp will be the bullpen. The list of pitchers on Baker’s dry-erase board is lengthy. There are only seven spots and several are already locked up for the likes of Broxton, Marshall and Arredondo. Then there is someone like J.J. Hoover, who will likely have to work his way in after a solid 2012 debut. (1-0, 2.05 ERA in 28 games with 13 walks and 31 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings).

“He was very impressive,” Baker said. “You can pitch your way on to the [bullpen]. That’s what he did last year. That’s what it’s all about anyway. All I can do is give you the opportunity to pitch or play. This is a performance-based job. Sometimes, you’re a little more patient because of the potential and ceiling you see in a player.”

Sunday: Live BP

Today for the first time, Reds pitchers got a chance to get some simulated game conditions by facing Reds hitters in live batting practice. Among the pitchers that threw on Sunday were J.J. Hoover, Tony Cingrani, Daniel Corcino, Clay Hensley, Pedro Villarreal and Armando Galarraga. Pitchers like Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman and others are scheduled to throw their live BP on Tuesday. The schedule has no live BP on Monday.

Nothing too crazy of note happened during the sessions today. At one point, pitcher Nick Christiani hit batter Derrick Robinson with a pitch in the side, but it looked worse than it was. The ball actually went inside a front pocket on Robinson’s pullover.

Among the drills today were pitchers and defense working on pickoffs and rundowns.

Here some photos from Sunday at Reds camp.




Simon to play in Classic; other notes

Good Sunday morning. I’ve got a handful of notes to get you started.

*This morning will be the first live BP session where Reds pitchers will face Reds hitters. It’s usually pretty cool to stand behind the cage and see what the hitters see coming in at 90-95 mph.

*Reds reliever Alfredo Simon is the second player on the 40-man roster that will be leaving camp soon for the World Baseball Classic. Simon will participate with the Dominican Republic.

“They called and asked me if I wanted to go there. I want to represent my country,” Simon said. “The last time, I was supposed to go but I couldn’t because the team said I couldn’t go there. This year, the [Reds] said I could go. I’m happy.”

*Brandon Phillips is the other big leaguer slated to play in the Classic, for Team USA. There is no word yet on the statuses of Joey Votto (Canada) and Johnny Cueto (Dominican).

*Speaking of Phillips, manager Dusty Baker believed that second baseman’s flashy persona has likely rubbed some managers and coaches the wrong way, which might have cost him votes to both the All-Star team and Gold Glove Award. Phillips earned neither last year.


The Chapman plan? It’s a secret

Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman is slated to speak to media in a session in a little while. It will be the first opportunity in camp for reporters to get him.

But I did speak to Reds pitching coach Bryan Price about the most pressing questions the team is facing this spring — how exactly are the Reds going to transition Chapman from closer to a member of the rotation? How many innings will he get? There is an answer but the club is choosing to keep it on the down low.

“There is a pretty good understanding of what will be necessary to keep his innings at an area that we’re comfortable with, should he be a starter throughout the course of the season,” Prices said on Saturday. “That being said, I think if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned it’s better to keep that stuff to ourselves. You just set the table for a little too much speculation and Q&A that I would not be comfortable going through.”

While throwing 71 2/3 innings last season, Chapman was 5-5 with a 1.51 ERA, 23 walks and 122 strikeouts in 68 relief appearances. He converted 38 saves in 43 chances. A lot of scrutiny has been placed on Reds’ bold move to possibly increase his innings as a starter.


Bailey settles; one-year deal

The Reds and starting pitcher Homer Bailey avoided arbitration when the right-hander was signed to a one-year contract.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported it was a $5.35 million deal. Bailey made $2.4 million last season when he also avoided arbitration.

Bailey filed at $5.8 million, while the club offered $4.75 million. The deal got done on Friday night. Bailey’s hearing was scheduled for Monday.

Reds general manager Walt Jocketty was happy to get all seven of his arbitration cases clear without needing a hearing. The closest to the zero hour was Latos, who agreed to a two-year, $11.5 million deal moments before his hearing started. Jocketty felt this was the toughest arbitratiion group he’s had.

“Absolutely, with the number of guys and the quality of guys,” Jocketty said on Saturday morning. “We had some tough cases.”

Jocketty said “at some point,” the club would revisit trying to sign Bailey to a multi-year contract.

The Reds have not gone to arbitration since defeating Chris Reitsma in 2004.

Bailey, 26, was 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA in a career-high 33 starts in 2012. He also established new career bests in wins, innings (208), strikeouts (168) and quality starts (21) while leading the National League with a 2.32 road ERA.

Day 4: Full squad works out

Friday marked the moment when the gang was all here, plus 25 members of the South Korean media that were here to watch Shin-Soo Choo. It’s a dynamic I’ve seen with other teams that have Japanese players, but haven’t ever seen in Reds camp. Wherever Choo went, a large gaggle of media followed with still camera and video cameras. It won’t be like this all season, however, unlike  Japanese players Ichiro, Matsui and others that had a daily presence all season.

Other notes from Friday:

*Joey Votto went through the full workout without issue after passing his physical. I watched Votto do just about everything today — stretch, run, field and hit and never noticed him favoring his surgically-repaired left knee. During BP, he hit a tower shot that easily cleared the right field fence. But let’s get perspective. One, it’s BP. Two, the air is very thin out here.

*Click here for my full story on Votto that’s on MLB.com/Reds.com.

*Miguel Olivo launched three drives in a row over the left field fence. I was told prospect Donald Lutz was raking balls out on the other field.

*Bronson Arroyo was sick and unable to take part in the workout.

“He’s going to throw and then go home because he wants to get his arm in shape,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s how Bronson is. Most guys would just go home. He wants to throw first and then go home.”

*Might Votto, who learned Spanish to communicate with Latin teammates, pick up Korean to talk with Choo?

“If he’s a good enough teammate, I may,” said Votto, who also knows French.

*By the way, Choo speaks excellent English and will not need an interpreter. He met with the Korea reporters after the workout, along with his agent — Scott Boras.

“I was told that Korean reporters bought dinner every night,” Boras joked.

*Finally, here is the day in pictures:

Votto: ‘I did nothing but progress’

Friday is the Reds full squad report day for Spring Training and it’s the day that Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips arrived to camp. Votto, of course, was an anticipated arrival because it was a chance to see how his surgically-repaired left knee is doing. I will have a full story later on MLB.com but here some quick hits:

Votto went through his physical with Dr. Tim Kremchek and head trainer Paul Lessard with no issues.

“The next test is obviously going to be doing Spring Training type stuff, which is pretty much the ultimate test,” Votto said. “But I did all of my baseball stuff beforehand, training on a consistent basis. I did nothing but progress. I feel really good. I can’t put a number on it but I don’t see any reason I can’t continue to play like I did before the injury.”

Votto acknowleded that his knee doesn’t feel the same, yet, as it did before the injury.

“No, I just had surgery five months ago,” Votto said. “It doesn’t feel the same but it’s done nothing but improve. The doc says if he saw me at random, he would have said he couldn’t tell I had some sort of injury. The test will be on the field. I’ll hit that first home run and everyone will relax.”

As for playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, Votto would very much like to play. He was not part of the original provisional roster but can still be added.

“I’m going to talk to the staff, Walt, Dusty and the front office in general,” Votto said of participating.

Check back later at MLB.com/Reds.com for more on Votto.

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