Sunday, March 27, 2011

Game 3 in Scottsdale

Yesterday we traveled to Scottsdale, the Spring Training home of the defending World Champion S.F. Giants. The game had a completely different feel from the more relaxed atmosphere of Goodyear. And that's a good thing. The announced attendance was over 12,000 and the park looked full. At one point we were looking for a spot to move into the sun, and didn't see any. (I thought the shade was great but, believe or not, it was a little chilly in the shade with the breeze.) The grassy hill (a staple at stadiums out here) was so full it looked like stands with people sitting in seats, not a grass with blankets. The park had more going on, too, but we thought that was because it's also used as a minor league park during the year, so it made more sense to have more stuff.

We heard parking would be tough, so we got there super early and parked right by the stadium (for free). Then had a good lunch (except for the food) at a Mexican place called Los Olivos. El Rio Grande is better, but we were able to sit outside in the shade of a big umbrella. That part was very nice. And the salsa was great. Scottsdale is a really cool area.

Tim Lincecum was the Giants' starter. He's probably my favorite major leaguer, non Reds category. It was fun to see him pitch, but even more fun to see the Reds hit him and hit him pretty hard. Brandon Phillips had two hard singles up the middle, and the one time he did make an out (2-3) he lined hard right at the left fielder. Talking to Phillips afterward, he said he loves to hit against the top guys. It really showed in his approach. Francisco homered (man that guy can hit) and doubled in another run. But the big blow was a three run shot to center by Fred Lewis. That one was not wind-aided. All told, the Reds got to Lincecum for 6 runs in five innings.

Unfortunately, that's all the Reds could scrape together. And they needed more. The Reds' newly minted fifth starter, Sam LeCure, pitched well, giving up just one run over 3.1 innings. He gave up five hits and walked two, striking out three. For Arizona, that seemed like Cy Young. Dusty pulled him after he got the first out in the fourth. That's when the wheels fell off. Bray came in and gave up two singles and a sacrifice bunt (the second out) and got the third out on a home run. With two on, Torres hit a home run to left. But the umpires (after one apparently gave the home run signal) said it didn't clear the wall and the Reds tagged Torres out as he jogged to third. To me it looked like the ball hit about eight feet in front of the wall, but BP said later the ball cleared the wall and bounced back. Proof, I guess, of what we've seen all week; it's really hard to see the ball when it's in the air. So the Reds escaped the inning with a 4-3 lead.

Massett pitched an inning of scoreless relief and then Chapman came in for the 6th. He faced five batters and gave up three singles, a double, and a hit batsman and threw two wild pitches. All five scored without Chapman recording an out. Hopefully, this will be treated as just one of those outings and everyone will forget about it.

Nobody else scored and the Giants took the win 9-6. We are now worried that perhaps we've jinxed the team. We have our last game today, at Goodyear against the Diamondbacks. I expect it to be pretty crowded with Diamonbacks fans, but we'll see.

Before the game, BP threw us a ball in the stands. We were about 16 rows up (actually in the second section) and he threw it right to me. But this tall guy in front of me made a great catch on it. When he realized we were Reds fans, though, he just gave me the ball. A really nice Giants fan. (I bought him and his friend a beer). Turns out, he went to junior high with Jonny Gomes.

Check back for a final report on today's game and for the trip recap.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Training game 2

Reds pitching is taking a beating. 15 runs on Thursday and another 10 yesterday. But the ball really travels here and the fielders have really had a tough time with the high sky. We've seen several fly balls and pop ups misplayed by the defense. So I'm not super worried; mostly everyone says Spring Training stats don't matter that much. What does worry me, however, is the injuries. Cueto is out to start the year and now we learn Bailey will start the season on the D/L. (I don't know why he didn't mention that to me when I met him yesterday; must not have realized I was a blogger.) And now Arroyo has mono. (Good thing Rachel only shook his hand yesterday when we met him.)

That leaves Volquez, Leake, and Wood as guys that started ST with a shot at the rotation. Presumably, Arroyo will be back by the third game (he never misses a start, right?) And we read yesterday that LeCure (who we'll see today against the Giants and Tim Lincecum in Scottsdale) as the fifth starter. Maloney has a shot, but he got roughed up for three runs on six hits in two innings yesterday. We'll see how LeCure does today.

That's the thing about being here, live, though. The stats don't tell the story. In a regular game the only thing that matters is did you get the job done. But here, how you pitch matters. Maloney pitched a great 8th, getting a double play after a pretty lucky hit, and then getting the first two guys routinely in the 9th. Then the Pads strung together a couple of hits and, all of a sudden, it's three more runs. Again, the stats just don't tell the story.

Volquez gave up five straight hits to start the game, but escaped the first having given up only two runs. He gave up only one more on a home run to Ryan Ludwick, pitching a total of 5 innings. Another potential run was cut down at the plate on a nice throw to home by Jay Bruce to preserve, at least for the moment, a two-two tie.

Bruce and Gomes then doubled back-to-back for the Reds third run and they had the lead. But it didn't last and the Reds went down 10-4.

Our host, Brandon Phillips, played yesterday. He started at second and batted lead-off. He struck out in the bottom of the first, but singled in the Reds' first run in the third in his only other at bat. He made a very nice play in the field (what else is new?) to save a run and end the fifth and keep the game tied before leaving for Miguel Cairo.

We got to go bowling with BP last night (I will do a full recap of the trip that's less baseball and more about how great a host Brandon has been at the end of the trip) and I got to ask him a "work question." What a treat for me to get to talk baseball with an All-Star, Gold Glover, 30-30 guy like BP. He explained to me his entire approach to the game. In the first, he took some extra pitches to see what the pitcher had. (Casey Kelly was the pitcher, the top prospect the Pads got in the A-Gon trade.) He was getting breaking stuff in and hard stuff away. Because of the extra takes, BP ended up in the hole and took a strike out.

But the next time up, with a guy on second, he singled through the hole at second for an rbi, and the Reds' first run. To me, it looked like he intentionally went the other way. He confirmed this to me at the bowling alley. He knew he'd get a fastball away, and saw the second baseman cheating toward the bag. So basically, he risked a strikeout to get more information on the pitcher in his first at bat, that he then used to drive in a big run when he had a runner in scoring position.

As I mentioned, we're off to Scottsdale to see the Reds take on the Giants. Look for a recap of that game tomorrow.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Blue Sox Baseball goes west - game 1

Things have been crazy since we woke up at 3:00 a.m. Thursday morning to catch our early flight for our Spring Training trip, courtesy of Brandon Phillips. Both our Dayton and Cleveland flights were delayed for deicing. The perfect context for a trip to sunny Arizona.

We made Thursday's game (1:00 local start) just in time for first pitch and had great seats right behind the dugout, albeit the Rangers dugout. We were initially excited that Dusty had every starter in, until we realized it was every starter but BP. (Don't worry, he texted us that he was working out in the clubhouse, watching the game on TV and that he'd meet up with us later. More on that to come.) One of the reasons we delayed our trip to late March was to see as many starters as we could and to see more of Phillips on the field.

Wood started, and the stat line did not look good. But he pitched to some really bad luck and a couple of weird errors that lead to a grand slam by Nelson Cruz. Wood could have been out of the inning unscathed, but it didn't come together. I guess that's spring training for you. Wood ended up going almost 6 innings. He also batted three times (the Reds didn't use the DH, although the Rangers did) and hit a two-rbi double. I wondered in what percentage of spring training games a pitcher gets three at bats.

The bullpen was erratic as well, but with the exception of Arredondo, most of the guys that gave up runs were not guys competing for major league roster spots.

But the bats were alive. The Reds scored 15 runs, with both Gomesy and Dave Sappelt homering. Sappelt's was half-way up the batter's eye in straight away center field; a monster shot. The centerfield spot (6th in the line-up) with Stubbs and Sappelt got on and scored every time but one, with 4 hits, a stolen base, and five runs.

Juan Francisco really looks good. He came in early for Rolen, who was hit by a pitch, and hit really well. Three hits including two doubles. He did miss a grounder down the line at third base. It was clearly a hit and not an error, but I kinda thought Rolen would have gotten it. If he makes the team, it will be on his offense. By contrast, the other left-handed power option of the bench, Jeremy Hermida, did not look that good, with a couple of strikeouts.

But the 13 runs wasn't enough as the Reds lost it 15-13 in a slugfest. Despite the loss, it was great being out there in the sun and watching baseball again.

We have another game today at 1:00, with a tour of the complex set for this morning. We're hoping to meet Dusty and a couple of players.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A little recent Reds history

This is a must click link for any Reds fan. Very informative.

Reds 25-man roster preview - position players

Last night we watched the MLB Network's 30 teams in 30 days series which featured the Reds. I was struck by the fact that they didn't tell us anything that my wife and I didn't already know. In fact, I think they got some things wrong; or at least different than the conventional wisdom among fans who follow the Reds. For example, they had a rotation of Volquez, Arroyo, Cueto, and Wood, with Bailey and Leake fighting it out for the fifth spot. Most Reds fans know Homer is out of options, so we assume it's Bailey in the fourth spot with Wood and Leake fighting it out for the fifth spot. Watching the special motivated me to start my 25-man roster preview series. We'll start with the position players.


Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan will be the two catchers. The Reds have two good catching prospects, but they won't be a significant part of this team this year. Mesoraco, the closer of the two, had a break-out last year, and could see time in case of a serious injury, but I think the Reds would go to Corky Miller as a short-term injury fill-in.

Interestingly, the Reds catcher spot may be the only language platoon in the majors, with Hanigan catching the English speaking pitchers and Hernandez catching the Spanish speaking pitchers. This would give Hanigan more starts, but Hernandez would catch opening day, because Dusty has named Volquez as the opening day starter. Hernandez can also back-up at first base in a pinch.


Three of these spots are a lock, Bruce, Stubbs, and Gomes. The Reds picked up the option on Gomes, which more than doubled his salary from last year. He earned every bit of the $800,000.00 he got last year and even at $1.75 mil this year is still a good bargain. He had some rough patches last season, and isn't a very good left fielder, but the kind of power he brings at under $2 mil. is a clear asset to the team.

Dusty has said Gomes will be the man in left field this year, which has surprised a few. I think most fans thought he would platoon with newly acquired Fred Lewis. After all, why give Lewis $900,000.00 if he's not going to play? The problem with Lewis as your fourth outfielder is that he's not a great defender and he doesn't have much power off the bench. But the contract (and the timing of it) indicate he'll be the fourth guy in the outfield.

That leaves the fifth outfielder, and probably the 25th guy on the roster. Heisey is the favorite for this spot. He's a good defender and could probably play all three spots. Plus he proved last year he could be an effective power guy off the bench as a pinch hitter, hitting four pinch-hit home runs. He's also already on the 40-man roster.

That's also true for Juan Francisco. And Francisco is left-handed. If the Reds go with Heisey, they will have no left-handed power on the bench. (Lewis would be the only left hander on the bench in that scenario). And the division is heavy with right-handed pitching. But Francisco isn't really an outfielder. He's more of a third-baseman. He would have the advantage of also backing up Rolen at third, and with Stubbs and Bruce probably needing little by way of a day off, the Reds may not need more than an emergency guy for the fifth outfield spot. We'll consider Francisco further when we get to the infield.

The Reds brought Jeremy Hermida to camp on a minor-league deal. I think he would be the best pick for this spot, providing decent defense and some left-handed power off the bench, but the Reds would have to find room for him on the 40-man. Look for Hermida to start in Louisville and be the guy the Reds look to if there's an injury.

A top prospect from last year, Todd Frazier, had a disappointing season last year and still doesn't have a clear position. He would be a good 25th man because of his ability to play everywhere. He's got good power and speed, but he'll need to rebuild his value in the minors for at least half of 2011. But if he starts strong, I could see him helping the Reds in the second half.

Dave Sappelt has gotten a lot of spring training press because of a hot start, but he is not a serious contender for the opening day roster. Nor do I see him on the Reds this year. the team simply has too much depth both in experienced guys and in prospects.

Finally, the Reds have had Yonder Alonso play some in left, but he won't see legitimate time with the Reds this year unless something goes seriously wrong.


Votto, Rolen, and Phillips are locks. The conventional wisdom is that the other three spots are also locks with Renteria, Cairo, and Janish. Most folks are projecting Janish as the starting shortstop, except for the "experts" who are still clinging to the out-dated notion that Dusty loves veterans and will feel compelled to start Renteria. That leaves Cairo and Renteria as the two back-ups.

Initially we thought Renteria would play a lot at third base, allowing a lot of rest for Rolen. But now we're told he won't play third, but may play some second base. (Are we finally seeing a path to move BP to short?) That leaves Cairo as the back-up at third. We've been told Dusty plans to rest Rolen a lot. So assume Rolen plays 130 games. That's a lot of time for Cairo at third. He played well last year, no doubt about it. But can he produce enough power at third with that much playing time? At this point, the only real option is Juan Francisco, and I don't think he'll make the team. When Rolen isn't playing Janish could hold down third with Renteria at short, but that's not enough offense.

Look for Cozart to take Janish's spot if Janish doesn't hit and Cozart starts off well in Louisville, but Cozart has no shot at the opening day spot. Valaika played some last year, but I don't think he has a shot either.

As an aside, here is one stat that, if it happened, would mean the Reds would win the division: Rolen gets 100 rbi's. I can't think of any other single stat that would mean more to this team. That would mean not only that Rolen was not sidelined by injury, but produced in the number four spot in the order. Plus, it would likely mean the Reds solved their lead-off problem, and got guys on base in the first three spots.

This year, more than any other since I've been a Reds fan, the Reds have very little uncertainty in their roster. That's true even though the Reds have a lot of depth. That depth will cause me some problems when picking the bullpen, which we'll do soon as part two of this series.