Thursday, March 31, 2011

9th Inning Magic, Hernandez's GW HR Lifts Reds to Comeback Win

A sell-out crowd of 42,398 witnessed Opening Day on Thursday at Great American Ballpark and it is safe to assume that most every fan went home happy.  Reds veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez delivered a game-winning, walkoff 3-run homerun with two outs in the ninth inning to propel the home team past the Brewers (0-1) 7-6 on a chilly, overcast day in the Queen City. 
However, this victory didn't come easy for the team in red today as they were forced to claw their way back from an early deficit.  Reds starting pitcher Edinson Volquez surrendered historic back-to-back homeruns to Ricky Weeks and Carlos Gomez to begin the game, a feat that hadn't happened since the Reds hit back-to-back homeruns to begin the 1969 season.  In fact, by the time Cincy (1-0) came to bat in the bottom of the first they already trailed 3-0.
Both teams managed to scratch across three more runs through the next seven and half frames before the Reds went into the bottom of the ninth behind 6-3.  Jonny Gomes delivered a sacrifice fly to center field to close the gap to two runs before Hernandez connected on a pitch and deposited it over the right field fence to complete the comeback.  He is the first Red to hit a walkoff homerun on opening day since Joe Randa accomplished the feat back in 2005. 

Game notables:
-With the loss the Brewers have now lost 10 out of their last 12 against the Reds dating back to last season.
-Hernandez finished the game 4-5 joining four other Red players in history to knock 4 or more base hits on Opening Day.
-The two top homerun-hitting teams in the NL from a year ago did not disappoint today.  The two teams combined to belt six homeruns in the afternoon affair.
-A combined nine pitchers were used today between the two clubs.

 Below is the box score and pitchers of record in the game.  You can view the box score in it's entirety here.

MIL 3 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 6 9 0
CIN 1 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 4 7 12 1

WP- Ondrusek (1-0)
LP- Axford (0-1)
ESPN Highlights of Game

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Series Preview vs. Milwaukee Brewers

Two teams that many experts project to finish near the top of the National League Central Division at this year's end will square off starting Thursday at 2:10 PM in Cincinnati.  Led by reigning N.L. Most Valuable Player Joey Votto, the Reds will look to defend their divisional title and make it back to the playoffs for the second consecutive season.  However, slugger Ryan Braun and the potent offense of the Brewers have other ideas as they look to improve on a 77-85 record and third place finish in the division from a year ago.  Here are the game times for the series along with the pitching probables:

Thursday 3/31 2:10 PM 
MIL (Gallardo, 0-0) vs. CIN (Volquez, 0-0)  

Saturday 4/2  7:10 PM
MIL (Marcum, 0-0) vs. CIN (Wood, 0-0) 

Sunday 4/3 1:10 PM
MIL (Wolf, 0-0) vs. CIN (Arroyo, 0-0)

Series Notables:
-The series will feature two of the top four National League offensive teams from last season by runs scored and team batting average. Cincinnati-790 RS/.272 BA (1st), Milwaukee-750 RS/.262 BA (4th).
-The two teams ranked first and second in homeruns last season in the NL. CIN-188 and MIL-182.
-Milwaukee ranked 26th in MLB last season in team ERA (4.58) and quality starts (75).
-The Reds tied for the second fewest errors in MLB last season with 72 and tied for first in fielding percentage at .988.
-The Brewers had five players who hit 20 or more homeruns in 2010.  Cincy had four. 
-The Reds had five players who drove in at least 70 or more runs in 2010. 
-Milwaukee had three players who drove in more than 100 runs in '10.
-Both squads finished with winning records this spring in the Cactus League. CIN:17-14, MIL:19-11.
-The two teams did not play one another until May 17th last season.
-The Reds were 11-3 in their season series versus the Brewers in 2010 including wins in 9 out of their past 11 meetings. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Opening Day Roster Set

The 25-man Opening Day roster for the Reds was finalized yesterday by manager Dusty Baker.  The final moves included a demotion of veteran C Corky Miller to the minors, and placing OF Fred Lewis and P Jose Arredondo on the disabled list.  The club will carry 12 pitchers and 13 position players to start the season.  You can see the roster in its entirety here
With starting pitcher's Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey sidelined with injuries the pitching rotation should temporarily consist of a combination of Bronson Arroyo, Edinson Volquez, Travis Wood, Mike Leake and Sam LeCure.  As for the batting lineup, things are always subject to change, but here's how I see the order for Thursday's game:

Stubbs CF
Phillips 2B
Votto 1B
Rolen 3B
Bruce RF
Gomes LF
Hernandez C
Janish SS
Volquez P       

Here's to a fun and winning season in 2011!

Monday, March 28, 2011

5 More Cuts, Roster Down to 28

Infielder Chris Valaika, OF Dave Sappelt, C Devin Mesoraco, OF Jeremy Hermida and LHP Dontrelle Willis were among the most recent roster cuts made by the Reds.  The moves leave Cincinnati with 28 healthy players heading into the season with the last remaining position battles happening between 3B Juan Francisco and OF Fred Lewis for the last bench spot, and LHP Matt Maloney, RHP Logan Ondrusek, RHP Jared Burton and RHP Jose Arredondo for the last two bullpen spots. 
Other notes:
-Arredondo is still trying to recover from having Tommy John surgery last year so it is possible that he may join pitchers Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey on the DL to start the year.
-Lewis injured his right side during Saturday's game which may bode well for Francisco's chances of making the club as the team's 13th position player.
-Sappelt was cut despite hitting .564 (22-38) with 3 homeruns and 12 RBI's this spring.
-Lewis has a guaranteed one-year big league contract and is out of options meaning that if Dusty Baker and staff do decide to go with Francisco for the last roster spot Lewis cannot go to the minors and thus will have to be released outright.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Injury Updates 3/25

The Reds are winding down their time in Goodyear, Arizona and may have to begin the regular season with a few key players out of the lineup due to injuries.  Here's the latest from what I could find:

-3B Scott Rolen is listed as day-to-day (DTD) after getting hit by a pitch on his left elbow yesterday; which forced him to leave the game.  Scott is off to a slow start so far in 2011 hitting just .200 through 14 contests.    
-C Ramon Hernandez may miss Opening Day with soreness in his right elbow and is listed as DTD.  The Venezuelan-native batted .250 in 10 games this preseason.
-P Homer Bailey is expected to miss at least two starts after experiencing impingement in his throwing shoulder.  The 24-year old right-hander was 0-2 in 4 appearances this spring.
-P Johnny Cueto is still battling inflammation in his right shoulder and his out indefinitely.  He will resume throwing on March 28th.  The Dominican-native is 1-1 with an ERA of 6.00 in 4 starts this spring.
-P Bronson Arroyo has been battling flu like symptoms for 10 days and was tested for what is known as "valley fever" (a fungal infection in the lungs) on Friday.  Bronson is not expected to miss any additional time and he has stated through rest and proper medication that he will be good to go before Cincy opens the regular season on March 31st. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Retro Reds TV Ads

I thought today we'd have a little fun with the filler they use on TV to bridge the gap between innings and pitching changes during the games.  Here's a blast from the past of some of the more memorable, recent Reds commercials.  (You may notice that all of them feature fan-favorite Bronson Arroyo)  Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reds Send Down 7 to Minors

Cincinnati optioned seven players to the Louisville Bats on Monday trimming back their roster from 37 players to 30.  Among the latest roster squeeze include Cuban-native 1B Yonder Alonso, SS Zack Cozart, LF Todd Frazier, RHP Jordan Smith, RHP Carlos Fisher, 5'6 LHP Daniel Ray Herrera, and SS Kris Negron.  No real surprises here as all these guys are still relatively young with some room to improve.  Have no worries though, there is a good chance we see at least a handful of these guys at some point during the 2011 campaign.
The remaining 30 players are now left to compete for 25 spots on the opening day roster.  The up-to-the-minute roster breakdown looks like this:
Pitchers: 15
Catchers: 2
Infielders: 8
Outfielders: 5
The catcher and outfielding positions look to be pretty much set in stone.  One should expect the remaining 5 cuts to come from a combination of the pitching staff and the infielders.  If I had to predict who the next departures would be I would have to guess SS Chris Valaika, 3B Juan Francisco, RHP Sam LeCure, LHP Matt Maloney, and RHP Jared Burton.  Nothing against these guys as all 5 of them are tremendous ballplayers, but they posses minor league options in their contracts unlike some of the veterans such as Miguel Cairo.  We'll know soon enough who they are as opening day is now just 7 days away!            

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cueto to Miss Beginning of Season

Not good news for Reds fans today as it was released that starting pitcher Johnny Cueto will miss the beginning of the season due to inflammation in his right shoulder.  The exact timetable for the 24-year old's return is unclear, but the temporary loss of Cueto forces skipper Dusty Baker to alter his pitching rotation a bit now.  The new 5-man rotation should feature ace Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Travis Wood, in that order, until Johnny returns back into the fold.  You can read the complete story from the AP here.         

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mid-Spring Training Report

So here we are a little over halfway through March with Opening Day fast approaching on March 31st.  Here's a few notes on how baseball's oldest professional franchise has been faring in Goodyear, Arizona (remember, take it all with a grain of salt as spring training results don't always correlate into similar regular season results):

-Cincinnati is 14-9 this spring (as of 3/20), good enough for 5th place in the Cactus League.
-The Reds currently own a razor thin scoring margin over their opponents through the first 23 games with 137 runs scored to 136 runs allowed.
-Nine games remain on the 32-game preseason schedule before the club hosts the divisional rival Milwaukee Brewers a week from this Thursday.

Who's Hot:
-Jay Bruce is off to a good start hitting .343 (12-35) in 13 game appearances. 
-Francisco Cordero has surrendered just one earned run in 6 appearances.  Let's hope for the health and nerves of Reds fans everywhere that the Cincy closer continues to pitch well in the coming months. 
-Jordan Smith has been mister right place/right time this month. He has tallied a 3-0 record in his 6 appearances in spite of his 4.15 ERA.
-Devin Mesoraco has been a pleasant surprise in the Reds camp.  The young catcher is batting a scorching .417 (10-24) in 15 games and is making it difficult for the coaching staff to not give him a serious look at making the opening day roster.  Unfortunately, already having veterans Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan penciled into the fold doesn't bode well for Devin's odds at making the team out of spring training.  He will get his time eventually, but just not yet.   

Who's Not:
-Jonny Gomes is batting just .143 (5-35) in 13 ball games.  No need to worry about Jonny just yet, I have faith he'll turn it on come April.   
-Drew Stubbs leads the team in at-bats, however has hit only .216 (8-37), has struck out 16 times and has stolen only 1 base.  Yea, might be time to push the panic button on finding a legitmate lead-off hitter because I don't think Stubbs fits that bill. 
-Bronson Arroyo has been shaky so far in his four starts.  In his 14 IP he boasts a 0-2 record to go along with his 5.14 ERA.  As with Gomes, no worries here either with Arroyo.  Would much rather him get his bad outings out of his system in spring ball than when it counts during the regular season.
-Carlos Fisher has not helped his chances of starting the year in the Queen City by allowing 8 earned runs in only 7 innings pitched.  Fisher could eventually help the Reds later on in 2011, but expect him to start the year in AAA Louisville.
-Bill Bray has appeared in the most games of any of the other pitchers (8), but has also allowed the most earned runs with 9.  Lucky for Bray, the Redlegs don't exactly have a plethora of situational left-handed pitchers in their bullpen anymore with the departure of Arthur Rhodes this past offseason.  This means that Bill will likely find his way onto the 25-man opening day roster regardless of his spring training woes. 

Overall, one can't help but like the chances of this Cincinnati Reds team repeating as National League Central champs in 2011.  The pitching rotation is deep, the batting lineup is balanced, and guys like Bruce, Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto, Travis Wood and Mike Leake have only begun to scratch their incredible upside and potential.  Only 11 more days until the opening pitch of the 2011 season!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cincy Options Three to Minors

The Reds made efforts in trimming down their spring roster on Monday afternoon after demoting three players to the minor leagues.  Catcher Yasmani Grandal was sent down to the single-A affiliate Dayton Dragons after the 22-year old appeared in nine games this spring for the big club.  Promising young pitching prospects Philippe Valiquette and  Daryl Thompson  were sent to AAA Louisville.  Thompson posted stellar numbers in his four outings this spring boasting a 2-0 record in 7 total innings pitched.  Manager Dusty Baker and his coaching staff still have a long way to go in shaping up the 25-man opening day roster as 37 players still remain competing for one of those spots.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Reds Lock Up Hanigan Thru 2013

Cincinnati signed catcher Ryan Hanigan to a three-year contract extension worth an estimated $4 million.  The 30-year old role player caught in 70 games last season and should see that number increase over the course of the next few seasons.  You can read the rest of the story here from the Reds official website.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Preseason Preview by Position Day 5

Day 1: Outfielders
Day 2: Infielders
Day 3: Catchers
Day 4: Relief Pitchers
Day 5: Starting Pitchers

This post will officially wrap up the preseason position-by-position preview series.  I hope you have enjoyed reading up until now and will continue to enjoy reading as we end the series with the starting pitchers. 
Behind any legitimate World Series title contender lies quality starting pitching.  If you don't believe me just ask the 1991-2005 Atlanta Braves teams who won a record fourteen consecutive divisional titles during that stretch, largely in part to great SP's such as Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.  Still not convinced?  Take a look at the most recent World Champions.  The Giants ('10), the Yankees ('09), and the Phillies ('08) all boasted excellent pitchers in the likes of Tim Lincecum, C.C. Sabathia, and Cliff Lee just to name a few.  Now that I've made my case for the importance of starting pitching let us now take a look at the guys that Dusty Baker will be running out to the mound in the first inning and beyond this season.

Key Losses: Aaron Harang     

Key Additions: None

Edinson Volquez- After a pair of disappointing seasons in 2009 and 2010, the Reds can only hope that Volquez can return to his 2008 form where he went 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA and appeared in his first All Star game.  The 27-year old Dominican native should be fully recovered this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery that prematurely ended his 2009 campaign.  Dusty Baker will look to Edinson to be the ace of a pitching staff who has the luxury of having great depth, but not necessarily a clear-cut, proven number one starter.

Bronson Arroyo- This 33-year old right-hander is entering his sixth season with the Reds and should continue to be a leader in the clubhouse this year.  Bronson has been one of the most productive pitchers in MLB since 2006 having posted 200 or more innings pitched every year during that span.  Having Arroyo between two hard throwing guys in the rotation is very smart because of his subpar velocity and slow, sweeping curveball that keeps hitters off balance.  One can expect for Bronson to once again go over the 200 IP mark, as well as accumulate 13-16 wins in the upcoming season.

Johnny Cueto- Johnny has gradually gotten better each year in his first three major league seasons.  Last season he gave Cincinnati a huge boost by tallying a W-L record of 12-7 while recording 185 2/3 innings pitched.  Cueto provides the Reds with a solid # 3 starter that should match up with just about any National League rotation out there.  One area for improvement that Johnny will no doubt look to improve on for 2011 is to be more efficient with his pitch count to allow him to go deeper than just the 5th or 6th inning of games.

Homer Bailey- I can still vividly remember the boo's from the Reds home crowd directed at Bailey after a poor outing against the Red Sox back in 2008.  At the time I even remember thinking Homer might just be a lost cause.  Well, as it turns out just three short years later Homer looks poised to lock down the # 4 starter spot coming out of Spring Training.  Bailey posted a promising 8-5 record in 2009, but was bothered by injuries in 2010 that kept him sidelined for a good chunk of the season.  It will be interesting to see how much he progresses going forward into 2011 and beyond.

Travis Wood- Add Wood's name to the list of pleasant surprises for Cincy in 2010.  Travis was called upon to fill-in as a spot starter mid-way through the season and did more than hold his own.  The 5'11 LHP recorded a 3.51 ERA going 5-4 in 17 games started.  Although it's a toss up at this point in Spring Training for the last starting role, I'm going to have to give the edge to Wood here solely based on the fact that the Reds may want to have a lefty in the rotation to offset opposing lineups dominated by lefties.

Mike Leake- Fresh out of the college ranks, Mike needed no minor league seasoning before arriving to the big show.  Leake came out of the gates in April like gangbusters and helped keep the Reds in the race before others started to pick up the slack.  However, the grind of a full 162-game schedule seemed to wear on Leake as the Reds were forced to place him on the DL with shoulder fatigue a little over halfway through the year.  Nonetheless, I fully expect for Mike to be more physically ready this season as he learns to pace himself along the course of a grueling season.  Rumors have it that he may start in AAA Louisville to begin 2011, but look for him to be back with big club at some point by June.

Guys we could see later in the year: Matt Maloney, Sam LeCure, Darryl Thompson

Group Grade: B+
The strength of this unit is without question it's depth.  The organization has done a stellar job at developing and grooming quality young arms that are ready to contribute at the major league level.  The downside of the Reds starting pitching is that they don't have a "shut-down", go-to # 1 starter like a Cliff Lee, Chris Carpenter or Josh Beckett.  In order to overcome such a void all these guys will have to pull a little extra weight to sustain winning streaks and help put a stop to losing skids.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Preseason Preview by Position Day 4

Day 1: Outfielders
Day 2: Infielders
Day 3: Catchers
Day 4: Relief Pitchers
Day 5: Starting Pitchers

With previews of all the position players already in the books, it is time now to shift direction toward the pitchers.  I believe any knowledgeable fan would agree that having quality pitching is the key to a winning ball club and that's exactly what the Reds got last year from their pitching staff.  With most everybody back the squad looks ready to shut down opposing N.L. hitters once again in 2011.  Today we will preview the guys who hang out in the outfield bullpens, the one's with the rubber arms, the one's who are on-call virtually every game; the relievers.

Key Losses: Arthur Rhodes 

Key Additions: Jose Arredondo

Jose Arrendondo- Jose did not play in 2010 due to undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in February of '10.  The hard-throwing Dominican native spent his first two big league seasons in 2008 and 2009 with the Angels where he posted an impressive 12-5 mark with a 3.48 ERA.  The Reds rolled the dice with this guy when they signed him to a major league contract two off seasons ago knowing full and well that he wouldn't be back until this season.  Well, after a little over a year's worth of wait the club will finally see what Arrendondo can do as they hope he can fill the void left behind by veteran pitcher Arthur Rhodes.

Aroldis Chapman- The Cuban fireballer made his eagerly awaited major league debut at the tail-end of last season and helped the Reds mightily down the stretch.  With a fastball clocked at speeds of up to 102 MPH and a slider that at times seems unhittable, Chapman is oozing with unlimited potential.  As the young 23-year old begins how to truly pitch at the big league level, he could prove to be a nightmare for opposing left-handed batters.  Although a starter for most of his younger playing days, the Reds seem content to work Aroldis out of the 'pen until they feel he's ready to become a starting pitcher in the majors.   

Francisco Cordero- The 2011 campaign will mark the third year for Coco in the Queen City.  The aging 36-year old relief pitcher recorded 40 saves for Cincinnati in 2010, but some of those didn't come without some suspense.  Cordero has a tendency to make things harder for himself than they have to be, however, most times he manages to come through in the clutch.  Expect Coco to once again be the guy who manager Dusty Baker hands the ball to in the 9th inning for 2011.

Bill Bray-  This guy epitomizes the definition of a "left-handed specialist".  Bill has been hampered by injuries for the past three seasons, but when he has been able to pitch he's been pretty stingy by holding batters to a measly .198 batting average last season in 28 1/3 IP.  His herky-jerky delivery and ability to hit the corners give Bray the ability to shut down left-handed hitters at a high rate.  If he can stay healthy this year he should  accumulate the most game appearances of any Reds pitcher by year's end. 

Nick Masset- Once known strictly as a starter, Masset has turned himself into a very valuable reliever for this Reds ball club over the last two seasons.  Nick assumed the setup role last season and never gave it back.  He appeared in 82 ballgames in 2010 posting a 3.40 ERA and a 4-4 record.  I fully expect the 29-year old to continue to blossom into one of the league's better relief pitchers as he enters the prime of his career.

Jared Burton- After a promising three-year stretch from 2007-2009 Burton took sort of a step back last season.  He saw action in only four games last year with the big club after spending majority of his time at the AAA level with Louisville.  Once thought of as the successor of the closing role for the Redlegs, he has taken a back seat to others here recently.  However, the front office isn't ready to give up on the middle-aged reliever just yet.  Jared can be a good contributor in 2011 if he can just stay injury free.

Logan Ondrusek- The big, tall right-hander was quite a pleasant surprise in the '10 campaign.  The Texan posted a sparkling 5-0 record while appearing in 60 games in his rookie year last season.  I am hesitant to expect such good numbers from Ondrusek in 2011, but heck why not?  The guy throws strikes and gets batters out and at the end of the day that's all that matters in his profession.

Guys we could see later in the year:  Carlos Fisher, Daniel Ray Herrera, Jordan Smith, Phillipe Valiquette

Group Grade: C+
I really, really like the fact that there is a lot of continuity in this year's relief pitching core.  They return everybody from last year except Rhodes and add a wildcard in Arrendodo who can turn out to be the best of the bunch.  The 2010 bullpen ranked in the middle of the pack in several statistical categories including 7th in IP, 7th in ERA, and 7th in BA.  With 16 teams comprising the National League this puts the bullpen right about average relative to the other team's in the league. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Preseason Preview by Position Day 3

Day 1: Outfielders
Day 2: Infielders
Day 3: Catchers
Day 4: Relief Pitchers
Day 5: Starting Pitchers

After previewing every position (except pitchers) beyond home plate, let us now focus on the guys who take a beating behind the plate.  The position of catcher is, in my opinion, the most highly undervalued and least desirable position to the average fan.  However, no other position besides the pitcher handles the baseball more during a game than does the catcher.

Key Losses: None

Key Additions: None

Ramon Hernandez- This 34-year old veteran saw action in 94 games last season splitting the catching duties among himself and Ryan Hanigan primarily.  He managed to bat a career-high .297 last year while anchoring a young a pitching staff to a divisional crown.  This year will mark his third season with the Reds after coming to the Queen City in a trade from Baltimore back in the off-season of 2009.  Ramon should continue to be an important asset to the team, but as his vulnerability to injury has increased these past few seasons you can expect for Dusty Baker to give him a few more days off than he had in 2010.

Ryan Hanigan- It's hard to imagine any other MLB team getting more offensive production from their catcher's spot than Cincy did last year and Hanigan was a major factor in that.  When the curtains closed on the 2010 campaign Ryan managed to record an even .300 batting average while nailing almost half (13/28) of all runners attempting to steal.  Expect to see more Hanigan this year as he continues to emerge as a viable everyday catcher in the big leagues. 

Corky Miller- Hard not to like a guy like this.  Appearance-wise Corky looks like your prototypical league night softball player with his handlebar mustache and slightly overweight build.  However, when asked to step in the middle of last year due to injury he did a decent job of holding down the fort until the regulars returned.  Miller won't give you much with the stick, and his defense is average, but the pitching staff loves this guy. 

Guys we could see later in the year: Yasmani Grandal, Devin Mesoraco

Group Grade: B-
I believe this to be a rather fair assessment of the catching group.  All three of these guys are good veterans, but they're not likely to make the Summer Classic anytime soon either.  All in all the sum of the group's  production is greater than the individuals parts.  Relative to the other teams in the National League, the combination of these three guys (statistically speaking) should be slightly better than average, but there are certainly squads who possess better overall players at this position.