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Simon’s future not a simple matter

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave awaiting the crush of relatives for the Easter weekend and no matter what Nadine says I am NOT coloring eggs.

AT SOME POINT last year I wrote that Cincinnati Reds pitcher Mike Leake had to be the best No. 5 pitcher in baseball. How many No. 5s go 14-7 with a 3.37 earned run average.

This time around I’m saying Reds left hander Tony Cingrani may be the best No. 5. True, Cingrani was the second starter to open the season, but because he is the newcomer joining four returnees I consider him the team’s No 5 starter.

ADDING TO MY pitching assessments, I’m saying the Reds right hander Alfredo Simon has to be the best fill-in, stand-in pitcher in baseball. He was plucked out of the bullpen as an emergency replacement for injured Mat Latos

And here is where manager Bryan Price enters the equation, displaying his wise ways. Even before Latos went down during the first week of spring training Price planned to stretch out Simon during spring training, “Just in case somebody got hurt and we needed another starter.”

After beating the Cubs, 4-1, Friday, Simon is 2-and-1 (he should be 3-and-0) with an incredible 0.86 earned run average. Simon has not given up an earned run over his last 12 innings.

AND HE IS DOING exactly what he wants to do. Before leaving on the current 10-game trip, before he faced the Cubs, Simon said, “I definitely want to be a starter. I want to keep doing the job to show them I can be in the rotation.”

The return of Latos remains a mystery. Nevertheless, if Simon continues mowing down hitters like balloons in a shooting gallery, what do Price and the Reds do when Latos returns? It is, of course, a pleasant problem — too much pitching. But how can a team remove a guy pitching like Simon from the rotation.

Although he is a good soldier, a team player, deep down Simon doesn’t want to return to the drudgery of the bullpen. He likes the comfort of knowing he’ll pitch every fifth day instead of going to the park wondering when he might next pitch.

AND WHEN WAS the last time you heard about a long and middle relief pitcher signing a five-year $100 million deal?

If nothing else, the Reds have a nice trade chip in Simon. If the need arises for the team to make a trade for a position player and the other team needs a starting pitcher, well, how about Simon?

CATCHER DEVIN MESORACO continues to produce offensively and as he said during an interview on the last homestand, “I still consider my No. 1 job is defense — handling the pitchers, throwing out runners. Any offense I can contribute right now is just a bonus.”

There is no thought from Price right now about moving Mesoraco up in the batting order from his No. 7 spot. What does Mesoraco think?

“I try to have good at-bats no matter where I am in the order,” he said. “Hitting eighth is a little bit different because you are hitting ahead of the pitcher and don’t see too many good pitches. You draw a lot of walks, intentional and those so-called unintentional-intentional walks.

“It all depends on how you are swinging the bat and you want to have your most productive guys in the middle of the order and have guys on base so they can drive them in,” he said. “If I keep swinging the ball well, that would be a sensible move to make. But we have a lot of good hitters and at any one time a lot of them can be hot.”

AFTER 42 YEARS of covering this wonderful game it never fails that I see something once a week I’ve never seen before. Another happened Friday in the Reds-Cubs game. In the seventh inning, all three Reds hitters (Billy Hamilton, Joey Votto and Ramon Santiago grouned to first base and were thrown out with the pitcher covering first base. That’s three straight 3-1 plays. Never saw that before.

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A ‘Miracle’ in the clubhouse

CINCINNATI — One of the highlights of my baseball career occurred unexpectedly Wednesday morning in the middle of the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse.

Joe Morgan and I buried the hatchet — and it wasn’t in the middle of each other’s foreheads. And it was initiated by Morgan, which probably shows he is a bigger man than I.

As background, I wrote a column in 1979 that Morgan didn’t like and the next day he stuck a finger in my face and said, “Don’t ever try to talk to me again.” And I didn’t. And he didn’t speak to me, even though we constantly bump into each other.

THE FEUD, IF ONE can call it that, lasted longer than the McCoy-Hatfield feud, but there were no shotguns or moonshine involved.

I was standing in the middle of the clubhouse and Morgan, now a special assistant to General Manager Walt Jocketty, was seat in a far corner. I looked his way and he motioned for me to come over. I thought, “He isn’t gesturing to me. No way. I looked over my shoulder to see who might be behind me. Nobody.

When I looked back Morgan was on his way toward me. He stuck out his hand to shake mine and said, “I want to apologize. I was a lot younger and we do things when we’re younger that we sometimes regret.”

I HAD TO FIGHT back some tears as I put my arm on his shoulder and said something like, “Joe, you don’t know how much this means to me. I always respected you so much as a player and for the way you played the game, even after our falling out.”

He said, “I know that. And thanks for accepting my apology, Come down early some day and I’ll buy you lunch.” What he didn’t do was tell me to stop at his Honda dealership on I-75 on my way home and pick out an Accura, darn it.

As Al Michaels once said, “Do you believe in miracles?” Yes.

THE AROLDIS Chapman Plan is quickly moving forward. After his bullpen session Monday Chapman will do another bullpen session Thursday. He’ll pitch in the bullpen every three days four times before he takes the next step — live batting practice and PFP (pitchers fielding practice).

“Live batting practice could take by the end of this (10-day) road trip if all continues to go well. As you know, it is day-to-day,” said manager Bryan Price. “His arm is in great shape but he has to get his endurance. He was really shut down in all capacities, so he wasn’t able to condition a great deal. He played catch to keep his arm in shape.”

Chapman will have to undergo some specific testing before he is permitted to compete in games, “And that hasn’t happened yet,” said Price.

SEAN MARSHALL pitched an inning Tuesday for the Louisville bats, 20 pitches, and is scheduled to throw again today.

“Mack Jenkins (pitching coach) saw it on video, a video stream in our video room and he was able to watch it,” said Price. “He said he threw free and easy, no impediments to his delivery, was sharp with his breaking ball and fast ball. He looks right on track.”

If Marshall passes today’s test, he could rejoin the ream on the upcoming 10-day trip that begins Friday in Chicago.

MARSHALL’S ARRIVAL will alleviate the heavy load being carried right now by Manny Parra, the only left hander in the Reds’ bullpen.

“It will be a huge boost because Manny has been our do-it-all guy and leads our club in appearances (seven). He has pitched the ninth, the eighth, multiple innings. And he is our only left hander, so he has to close, get out left handers and right handers, set up.

“It would be nice to give him a reprieve by having Sean Marshall give him some support,” Price added. “And for me Sean is one of the better left handers in the game.”

UTILITY INFIELDER Ramon Santiago said the cold weather is tougher on the Latino players, “Because back home we always play in hot weather. You’ll notice that most Latinos don’t start off the season very good in the cold weather, but they really pick it up when it gets hot.”

Santiago said it was so cold last year in Detroit for a playoff game, “That I rubbed Vaseline all over my body and used Icy Hot balm, too. When it gets below 35 degrees it is awful to play in.”

WITH JOHNNY CUETO on the mound Wednesday, Pittsburgh fans still talk about how they intimidated him so much in PNC Park in the wild card game last year that he dropped the baseball while standing on the mound.

True? Intimidated?

“I didn’t read too much into that,” said Price. “Those fans were celebrating a huge accomplishment for their team, getting back to the post-season. Anything one of our players did out of sorts was going to be embellished by their fans. They took advantage of something as simple as Johnny dropping the ball. They just exacerbated something that was benign.”

JONATHAN BROXTON pitched the ninth inning of Tuesday’s victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, giving up a hit and a walk, but no runs to earn the save. Is he the closer until Chapman returns?

“Primiarily he will be our closer, unless he pitched a couple of days in a row,” said Price. “He solidifies our bullpen by nailing down that ninth inning for us. I don’t have to save Manny Parra for that situation. Broxton gets out lefties and righties and has a history as closer. It helps set up the bullpen for the first eight innings.”

There was talk of Billy Hamilton playing shortstop in the ninth inning of the suspended game because shortstops Zack Cozart and Ramon Santiago were out of the game. But it was purely an emergency situation, not something Price plans to do.

“it’s like, ‘We could play Neftali Soto in left field. He caught a fly ball out there in batting practice, so he’s qualified,’” said Price.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Dusty Baker was absolutely the best, a true marksman. He could hit a gnat in the butt.” — Manager Bryan Price, talking about Baker’s ability at spitting smokeless tobacco juice into a cup.

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Hamilton almost played shortstop

CINCINNATI — In a twist of desperation Tuesday, Billy Hamilton almost returned to his shortstop position. Almost.

With the Cincinnati Reds down, 8-7, in the bottom of the ninth on the suspended game, manager Bryan Price sent Chris Heisey up to pinch-hit for shortstop Ramon Santiago, who had been put into the game as part of a double switch.

If the Reds had tied the game Price was out of infielders. What to do, what to do. Easy. Heisey stays in the game at center field and Hamilton moves back to shortstop, the position he played when he signed and where he played most of his time in the minors.

It was necessary. Heisey popped to second and Hamilton (0 for xx on the homestand, struck out to end the game.

“Instead of moving a bunch of guys to different spots, Brandon Phillips to short or Todd Frazier to short, we figured to keep everybody at their natural positions. We’d put Hamilton at short and do the best we can. He has played short and there is no lack of confidence. You have to do what you have to do to try to win a ball game.”

Hamilton did start the second game, won by the Reds, 7-5, behind the pitching and hitting of Mike Leake (6 2/3 innings, three runs, five hits plus two hits of his own, including a two-run home run) and three hits by catcher Devin Mesoraco, including a two-run double. Mesoraco leads the team in RBI with nine in only 25 at-bats. Joey Votto had four hits, all singles, and a walk.

Hamilton led the ninth inning of the second game, 1 for 16 at the time. And he singled. Then he was thrown out trying to steal second by Russell Martin after the Pirates were 1 for 9 this season throwing out base stealers.

THE GAME WAS suspended at six innings Monday and Price kept it to himself which pitcher would start the seventh inning when the game resumed Tuesday. In fact, he kept it a secret from his pitcher, too.

“I didn’t tell Sam LeCure until a couple of minutes before 5 that he was going to start (at 5:35,” said Price. “Relief pitchers don’t like to know a lot in advance. They like to be flipped the ball and be told, ‘You’re in the game.’ We kept that mentality.”

LeCure gave up a run and three hits in his two innings and was the losing pitcher, throwing only 85 to 86 miles an hour tops.

“It’s early season, it’s cold and we haven’t seen a lot of our guys, outside of Curtis Partch, maximize their velocity yet this season coming out of our bullpen,” said Price. “We’ve had some adverse weather with guys sitting out there in long johns and jackets, trying to stay warm.”

TODD FRAZIER IS not a proponent of baseball’s challenge system. Even after he was awarded a double after an umpire rules his blooper a foul ball, Frazier still against it.

“Takes away the human element,” he said. “And so far only about 33 per cent of the challenged calls have been overturned, so is it worth it?”

It was worth it to Frazier and the Cincinnati Reds Monday night during the game suspended by rain after six innings with the game tied, 7-7.

It was the fourth inning when Frazier blooped one down the right field line. Pittsburgh right fielder Travis Snider dove for the ball. As he slid feet first and reached for the ball it hit him in the face as he slid into foul territory.

FRAZIER WAS STANDING on the base-line near home plate when umpire Brian Knight called it a foul ball. Frazier reacted.

“It hit him in the face and it looked to me like his head was in fair territory when it hit him,” said Frazier. “I was walking back toward the batter’s box and I saw Jay Bell in the dugout and I yelled, ‘Hey, Jay, I think that was fair.’ And I saw Homer Bailey say something then they all got miscomjombulated in the dugout figuring out what to do.”

Miscomjombulated? Is that Jerseyspeak?

“I WAS LOOKING at the replay (on the scoreboard) and I said to home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi and the catcher (Russell Martin). Martin says to me, ‘Dude, that might be fair (thanks, Russell).’ Cuzzi said, ‘Ah, we need a better view,’ and I told him, ‘C’mon, Phil. You and I are both from New Jersey, cut the crap. You are on my side, I don’t care what you say’”

Then the challenge was issued, the foul ball was overruled. Frazier trotted to first base, but the umpires motioned him to second base, saying that’s where he would have ended up on the play — even though Frazier didn’t run hard out of the box.

“That’s the fortunate thing about the replay because then Ryan Ludwick hits a home run,” said Frazier. “That got me on the doubles train. I don’t know how they do that but I assume they just made an assumption. They didn’t look to see where I was and I have to admit I didn’t run out of the box, truth be told. I saw the ball and half jogged. That’s my fault for assuming.”

MANAGER BRYAN Price’s latest point of view on batting Joey Votto second: “The sabrematricians might think it was a great move, but I just thought it was time to do something with our group of players, just something different that might change things up.

“It has been good but that doesn’t that where he will be for the rest of his life,” Price added. “We could put Joey any place in the lineup and he is going to hit. This isn’t going to make a difference of whether he’ll be more productive. He is a great hitter.”

Since the move over the last three games, heading into completion of the suspended game Tuesday, Votto is 3 for 9 with two homers, a double and four RBI.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: With the finish of Monday’s suspended game and the regularly scheduled Tuesday game, it was wondered if the schedule pre-game celebration of Jackie Robinson would be curtailed and manager Bryan Price said: “Without question it is a notable acknowledgement of a huge achievement by an outstanding man. That can’t be overlooked. It would be nice to get the first game over quick so we can do due diligence to pay proper respect to what he endured and his accomplishments.”

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Chapman wows ‘em in the bullpen

CINCINNATI — They gathered in the Cincinnati Reds bullpen early Monday afternoon as if somebody was passing out stacks of $100 bills.

To the Reds, what was going on in the bullpen was worth about $30 million and even general manager Walt Jocketty was there among the many observers to watch Aroldis Chapman throw off a mound.

How did he do? The catcher’s glove always pops louder when Chapman throws his 100 miles an hour fastball, but in the confinement of the bullpen it sounded as if somebody was setting off bunker busters.

THE SMILE ON Chapman’s face was as broad as the Ohio River behind him in Great American Ball Park as he threw 25 pitches, 25 very hard pitches, on his first trip on the mound since March 19.

On that fateful day during a spring training game in Surprise, Ariz., Kansas City’s Salvador Perez lined one off Chapman’s face. Chapman fell face-first on the grass near the mound, legs flailing behind him.

He suffered a mild concussion and facial fractures that required a permanent plate in his head. Some wondered if he would pitch again this season.

SO IT WAS LESS than a month after the incident and the surgery that Chapman was wearing his uniform and throwing 100 miles an hour. Reds manager Bryan Price said he will do several more bullpens before he throws live batting practice, the next gigantic step.

“I felt really good and everything went well,” said Chapman through his translator, team assistant trainer Tomas Vera. “My fastball was good, my command was good, my breaking ball was good. Everything was great.

About getting to face live hitters, Chapman said, “I’ll do what they decided to do with me. I have to wait to see what the doctor’s decision is, what (manager) Bryan Price’s decision is. Whatever they tell me, I have to do it. I feel physically and mentally great, my arm feels really good right now.”

SO FAR THE 26-year-old closer they call the Cuban Misslle, hasn’t missed much over the first 12 games of the season. The club has had only two save opportunities, one blown in New York by J.J. Hoover on a grand slam home run by Ike Davis and one converted by Manny Parra.

But it is beyond obvious that the Reds want their left hander who had touched 105 miles an hour on the radar gun, back as soon as he has clearance.

Manager Price was one of the horde gathered around Chapman in the bullpen and Price’s smile was as wide as Chapman’s.

“He was really leaning on it for 25 pitches. He threw the ball outstanding, threw all his pitches, including his slider,” said Price. “He was sharp. He was extremely enthusiastic and happy to be out there, as we all were to see him. It was exciting.”

PROCE SAID throwing off the mound was a positive step, but the ultimate challenge is the day he walked to the mound to face enemy hitters in a game situation. And that isn’t yet close.

“The next thing is live batting practice, facing batters,” said Price. “That will be his biggest initial hurdle. But we haven’t seen any reason to feel that he isn’t anything but optimistic to get back on the mound to face hitters.”

Price said Chapman will throw, “A handful of bullpen sessions before he faces live hitters. His next step is another bullpen.”

When Chapman throws live batting practice, a big question is whether he will throw from behind a protective screen or throw unprotected?

“I can’t say with certainty, but it will be what he is comfortable with,” said Price. “That’s up to him, an offer, a courtesy to anybody coming back from getting hit in the face. Sometimes, though, the screen forces you to throw the ball and finish your delivery behind it and that affects the mechanics in a negative way. That’s why I don’t like the screen. We’ll see. He’ll have that option.”

THAT SAID, “We all know the big test will be when he gets back into game, into competition.”

There is a chance the Reds could get left handed bullpen help by the end of the week. But it isn’t Chapman. It is set-up man Sean Marshall, who missed most of last year and all of spring training with a fatigued shoulder.

He is expected to make an appearance Tuesday at Class AAA Louisville and then come back and pitch another inning on Wednesday.

“After he pitches back-to-back games we’ll assess where he is in his rehab,” said Price. “There’s a chance he could be back by the end of the week. We certainly don’t want to put the cart in front of the horse. We want him to get through those outings in Louisville, his first time to go back-to-back. That would be the huge step in the right direction.”

WHEN THE Pittsburgh Pirates and Reds played last year, there were 28 players hit by pitches. The Pirates were hit by Reds pitchers 16 times and the Reds were hit by Pirates pitchers 12 times.

And there was testiness about it at times, some angry words exchanged.

Reds manager Bryan Price was the pitching coach last year, but was a close observer. He was asked before Mondays game if there might be some carryover this season. He was a diplomatic as the United Nationals Swiss delegate.

“You never know the intent of the opposing team and we know our circumstances,” said Price. “We are alike in that we like to establish the inside part of the plate. We both hit a lot of batters on all the teams, with no intent to hit anybody.

“It’s a start of a new season and I hope they don’t go into it thinking that there is something they have to establish, other than pitching their game,” Price added. “We intend to pitch our game. I don’t think there is any animosity, but we’ll see.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Asked about batting second, Joey Votto first said, “Wherever he needs me,” and then when asked if he takes the same approach or is anything different he said with a sly grin, “I get more paid more now.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY II: Manager Bryan Price always has a different way of expressing himself and when he was asked if Scott Schumaker would go on minor-league rehab assignment when his shoulder permits, Price said, “He’ll definitely get at-bats in the minor leagues. He won’t be activated out of the batting cage.”

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An appointment with Zack Cozart

CINCINNATI — There is a stop I have to make Monday afternoon before the Cincinnati Reds take batting practice. I promised.

Before Sunday afternoon’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, I stopped at beleaguered shortstop Zack Cozart’s locker, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “Two hits today.” He laughed.

“A few years back Aaron Boone was in a slump and I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Two hits today,’” I told Cozart. Boone had two hits that days and came looking for me the next day. I tapped his shoulder and said, “Two hits.” It worked three straight days for Boone.

SAID COZRT, “If it get two hits today you better come back tomorrow.” Cozart, who was 2 for 31 (.065) when Sunday’s game began, banged two hits, including a two-run double in the second inning, and drew a walk as the Reds exploded on the Tampa Bay Rays, 12-4.

Cozart can expect a visit for Monday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Reds, who had scored eight runs in their first five home games, scored 12 in this game and pounded 11 hits. As usual, when they score a lot of runs, the Reds used home run power, three of them. Joey Votto hit a two-run home run, Devin Mesoraco had a three-hit day by that included a three-run home run and pinch-hitter Chris Heisey clubbed a grand slam home run. Mix that in with another special outing by left hander Tony Cingrani. For the 21st straight time, all 21 of his major-league starts, Cingrani gave up five or fewer hits — exactly five on this day. His only major mishap was a two-run home run to Ben Zobrist in the third inning.

DEPENDING UPON YOUR upon your point of view, the news about Mat Latos is bad and on some levels good.

It is bad that Latos won’t be able to throw a baseball agains for 10 to 14 days. It is good that it doesn’t appear the Cincinnati Reds 14-game winner from last year won’t need surgery.

Latos was throwing in the bullpen Friday night, preparatory to a minor-league rehab start, when he felt pain in his forearm. The frustrated 26-year-old right hander flung his glove and put some other inanimate objects in the bullpen in motion.

How much does one guy have to take — elbow surgery last November, knee surgery in February, pain in the elbow in March and now this, pain in his forearm.

“It is a setback in his recovery,” manager Bryan Price said. “It is the flexor mass (in his forearm), a strain or a sprain. It is more time off to let it recover, let it simmer down, get the inflammation down.

“I don’t know how long it will be before he can throw, maybe 10 to 14 days,” Price added. “He’ll keep working hard to stay in shape and do all the other things he can do. But, definitely it is a setback and the timetable is pushed back significantly.

“This is nothing that requires a surgical procedure and I hate to talk about medical issues because that’s not my strength,” said Price. “We do know that he is going to miss some time from throwing. We’re optimistic he’ll be back throwing in 10 to 14 days. And hopefully there will be no further issues. Time will tell.”

TAMPA BAY manager Joe Maddon tore a page out of former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa’s playbook Sunday. As La Russa often did, Maddon batted his pitcher (Carlos Ramos) eighth and his first baseman (Sean Rodriguez) ninth.

In fact, Maddon called LaRussa and talked to him about it and Maddon used it once last year when the Rays were in Los Angeles.

Why? Something about if you want to pinch-hit for the pitcher, you get to him quicker if he bats eighth. Uh, OK. Maddon said he batted David Price ninth Friday and Alex Cobb ninth Saturday because he expected them to go deeper into games. Doesn’t sound as if he has much confidence in Ramos. That’s because Ramos was making only his fourth major league start and his first this year.

Maddon was right-on, too. The Reds got rid of Ramos before the end of the third inning — two-plus innings, four runs, three hits and three walks.

AND WHAT’S the progress on Skip Schumakers knee?

“Not much to tell you,” he said, “I’m playing a little catch, doing a lot of stationary bicycling, doing a lot of ultra-sounding. The other day I caught myself watching three episodes of ‘Say Yes to the Dress,’ so what does that tell you? Wish I had more to give you, but I don’t.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: A pre-game media briefing in manager Bryan Price’s office Sunday morning lasted two minutes and four seconds and afterward he said, “Let’s meet again after a 10-game winning streak. See you all in 10 days.”

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Price makes ‘The Big Move’

CINCINNATI — Bryan Price sent his first big message Saturday when he made out his lineup card: He won’t sit around waiting for things to happen. He is a Man of Action, willing to try something different.

And this one is a whopper. He moved first baseman Joey Votto out of the No. 3 hole in the batting order, moved him up to second, and dropped Brandon Phillips from second to third.

His reasoning is as solid as a granite table top, with a tinge of desperation.

“We’re trying to create some newness to our lineup and maybe it is no other reason than we need some newness,” he said. “We’re trying to get more guys on base in the middle of the lineup.”

AND HERE IS what you have to like.

“We have gotten off to a slow start (3-7) and I don’t feel that a sit-on-my-hands is the approach to get things turned around,” he said. “We have an outstanding group here but we haven’t hit on all cylinders, so we need to try something different.”

Price said he talked to Votto, who said early Saturday morning that he is fine with the move because, “I haven’t exactly been productive.” Said Price, “I’ve talked to Joey and I don’t think anyone is disgruntled by going from third to second in the order. Joey understands it.

“Joey and I had a great conversation during spring training and he expressed a willingness to do whatever is best for the club,” said Price. “It is a necessary part of what we’re trying to do here for guys to be selfless, do whatever the club needs to win. Right now we need to shake some things up, make some changes, try to find a way to take a great group of baseball players and actually start to play up to our ability.

“I DON’T KNOW if it will make a huge difference, but I think it can,” Price added. “I just felt like sitting on my hands would not make a difference.”

Price said he thought about the change when the Reds were in New York last week and he said, “It really didn’t come down to how we started, although if we had been a bit more dynamic offensively it wouldn’t have necessitated a change. But we’ve gotten off to a slow start with the bats. We’re losing games by a run (four one-run losses). There are no messages being sent. It is just trying to be creative in what we’re doing.

“More than anything, rolling out the same philosophy and going down the same road that we’ve gone for a while just doesn’t resonate with me,” said Price. “I want us to perform better and score more runs. I’m willing to do what it takes, take chances with the lineup, do what it takes to spur the offense. Our lineup isn’t going to be cemented in one place. You can’t expect things to turn around on their own.”

THE NEWS on the Mat Latos front isn’t good.

Latos threw a pitch in the bullpen Friday, grabbed his arm, and flung his glove in frustration. There was pain in his forearm and the Cincinnati Reds immediately stopped his throwing session.

So the return of Latos to the starting rotation continues on hold and it is not only costing the Reds valuable innings from a proven starter it is costing Latos sleepless nights.

“Throwing my glove kind of said everthing,” said the man who was 14-7 last season with a 3.16 earned run average but underwent off-season surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.

“It is frustrating after we take care of the problem (bone chips) that I had last year to get everything better. I’m trying to put this politely without flipping out — well, it is just frustrating.”

TO ADD MISERY, Latos was in spring training camp one week when his left knee collapsed and a tore the meniscus, necessitating surgery that caused him to go the entire spring without starting a spring training game.

“I took care of the bone chips to get fully healthy to come back stronger this year and now every time I make a step forward I take eight steps backward. I didn’t last a week in spring training before having the knee surgery, which was aggravating as hell.”

AT THE END OF spring training it was the back of the elbow that was, as he called it, “Barking at me a little bit. And no it is the forearm. We took care of the back of the elbow and I had no issues throwing in Arizona (at extended spring training). I threw two or three innings in Arizona, then I went to (Class AA) Pensacola in my last outing I was supposed to go five innings but it flared up on me, tightened up on me. We thought we had it hammered out but it came back on me.”

Latos arrived at the ballpark early Saturday and underwent an MRI and said, “They think they have it pin-pointed as to what it is, but they want to make 100 per cent sure on what exactly is going on with it. I’m pretty much in the dark.”

ZACK COZART is 1 for 29 (.034) and was in the lineup Saturday, where he will remain most of the time.

“He is our shortstop and that’s the one thing he needs to know in any discussion,” said Price. “He doesn’t have a long history, but he does have a history here. He doesn’t have to be a middle of the lineup run-producer. He just needs to do his thing.

“He can’t get better if he’s not in the lineup.” Price added. “He is working diligently, working with Don Long (batting coach), doing everything he can to have more consistent at-bats. He is not going to get out of it by sitting on the bench. Everybody is being him and we all know he can play.

“If there was a concern about him there would have been a competition for shortstop during spring training and there wasn’t. He will be in the lineup.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We’re a better team than 3-and-7 and we’re a better team than the way we finished 20-13. This our team and we know we have established players who can play and we have to go out and play better.” — Manager Bryan Price.

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Price-Maddon: A reunion of sorts

CINCINNATI — It was sort of a reunion Friday night when rookie Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price and veteran Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon exchanged lineup cards.

Price pitched for Maddon in Price’s first year of professional baseball. It was way back in 1985 when Maddon managed Midland in the Class AA Texas League and Price was a fuzzy-faced kid trying to climb the minor-league ladder.

THE LADDER RUN in Midland was pretty slippery, as Price recalled.

“I got absolutely obliterated in the Texas League and quickly worked my way down to the California League,” said Price. “I don’t think his memories of me are as good as mine are of him. Usually I saw him about the third or fourth inning when he was making his second and last visit to the mound to come and get me.”

Price, though, has fond memories of Maddon.

“He is a wonderful guy to play for,” said Price. “He is a terrific person, the same guy I remember playing for 30 years ago. He always exuded a passion and love for the game. He was always enthusiastic and extremely optimistic. We didn’t have a very good team at Midland but Joe never came to the park with a fatalistic attitude. He embraced his players. He is a first-class human being.”

PRICE ON BILLY HAMILTON: “We’re at the very young part of a young player’s career. It is the early stages. The game he had in St. Louis (three hits, a walk, two stolen bases and the incredible sprint home from third on pop fly) was a phenomenal game. You can’t come to expect that every day, but it certainly was a glimpse of what he can do when he is feeling right.”

AFTER MISSING THE first seven games while rehabbing an injury catcher Devin Mesoraco returned Tuesday in St. Louis with two doubles and added a two-run home run Wednesday.

“He played three games at (Class AA) Pensacola and didn’t get any hits, but he got some walks and a sacrifice fly,” said Price. “But he buggy whips a couple of doubles in his first game and hits a home run in his second game. That’s good things for us, for sure.”

AROLDIS CHAPMAN CONTINUES to play catch in the outfield, but isn’t yet doing anything else related to baseball and while he wants to take it fast the Reds want him to take it slow.

“It is a step-by-step progression,” said Price. “First he had to get over surgery and get the staples out of his head, then do a little cardio work, move around a bit, and now he is playing catch. The next step is to throw in the bullpen and then do some fielding practice. We don’t want to put him in harm’s way, so everything he does now is exclusive.”

MAT LATOS hoped to be pitching in this series against the Rays but his late rehab start was scratched and he is in a holding pattern.

“He will throw a bullpen before (Friday’s) game and we’ll see how he rebounds from that,” said Price. “If everything goes well then we can safely slide him into a rehab start.”

TELEVISION CAMERAS caught New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda with a sticky substance on the fatty part of his pitching hand below the thumb, probably pine tar. The opposing Boston Red Sox made no issue of it, but the media did.

Price was extremely diplomatic when asked if pitchers used pine tar or other substances to get a better grip on the ball — not to cheat and throw tricky, illegal pitches.

“That’s a hard one to answer,” said Price. “When you get the balls now, they are rubbed up with the mud, but there is still a slickness on them. Pitchers do whatever they can to create some tack, but not to throw spitballs. They can even chew some gum and spit in their hands because it is sugary and adds tack.”

Price paused and said straight-faced, “We don’t do anything illegal here.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: While most managers would say the team has a good scouting report on the other team, Reds manager Bryan Price said of the Tampa Bay Series: “With the newness of a team we don’t often play, we’ve done our reconnaissance work.”

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Seeing Hamilton was still disbelief

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave with mouth agape while watching The Billy Hamilton Show, displaying things I’ve never seen in 42 years of covering baseball.

Billy Hamilton gave a one-game glimpse of what he can be Wednesday afternoon in St. Louis and it was an eye-popper. And it showed why the Cincinnati Reds are willing to extend long-term patience.

The Reds won, 4-0, a rarity in St. Louis, but what Hamilton did may not ever have been accomplished in the annals of the game. Hyperbole? Maybe. But you had to see it and it was still hard to believe.

ON OPENING DAY, against these same St. Louis Cardinals, Hamilton struck out four straight times and RedsNation wanted him packaged and shipped via UPS back to Louisville.

And he showed virtually nothing the first week of the season and RedsNation wanted him packaged and sent via FedEx to Japan.

It looked as if he was overmatched — and you can put me among those who thought it was too much too soon for the skinny-legged center field. After all, as we all know, you can’t steal first base.

BUT ON WEDNESDY Hamilton put on a performance seldom seen on a major league baseball field — probably not ever by fleet-footed players like Rickey Henderson, Deion Sanders, Vince Coleman, Lou Brock, Joe Morgan and, yes, even Ty Cobb.

The fifth inning was a display of speed usually reserved for the 100-meter dash in the Olympics.

It began with Hamilton driving a single to left field. He hadn’t stolen a base all this young season, but he bolted for second on the second pitch. Yadier Molina, an All-Star every year and the Gold Glove catcher every year, didn’t even make a throw. He held the ball then lobbed it back to the pitcher.

IT WAS JUST beginning. Brandon Phillips lifted a shallow fly to right field. No normal runner tags up on that play and tries to take third. Hamilton is not normal. He tagged and slid safely into third base, beating right fielder Jon Jay’s throw.

That was incredible enough, but not even close to what he did next. Jay Bruce popped one up and disgustedly slammed his bat to the ground. Second baseman Kolten Wong drifted back and could have caught it.

But right fielder Jay called him off and caught the ball about 12 feet beyond the infield grass — an infield fly rule with the bases loaded or runners on second and first.

THIRD BASE COACH Steve Smith said to Hamilton as the ball was in the air, “OK, we’re going to see how fast you are.” Hamilton said, “OK, I’m going to show you.” He tagged up and was timed in 3.23 seconds fleeing the 90 feet plateward. Jay made a strong throw and Molina tried a sweep tag, but Hamilton was past him, sliding across the plate.

Hamilton was on base four times. He drove a ball to left center in the first inning and turned it into an easy triple. He walked in the third.

Then came the fifth, but he wasn’t finished after that incredible dash around the bases. In the ninth he dropped a bunt and Molina pounced on it. Didn’t matter. Hamilton was across first base by the time Molina’s dart throw reached first base.

Hamilton quickly stole second, his second of the game and of the season. Then he showed his speed again when Brandon Phillips lobbed a short single to right. Jay fielded it on the second hop and didn’t even throw home. Hamilton was flashing across the plate before he could cock his arm.

THATA IS WHAT Hamilton can do, if he can continue to get on base.

What he did totally overshadowed the four-hit shut out innings pitched by Mike Leake and the two-run home run hit by Devin Mesoraco in the second.

Yes, it was only one game. But hit came against one of baseball’s best team and some of it against baseball’s best catcher. And if nothing else it should confirm to Hamilton that he not only belongs with the Reds but that he can be a game-changer, a game-breaker and a game-winner.

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Yes, it’s early, but…

UNSOLICITED OSERVATIONS from The Man Cave wondering if I’m watching 2013 re-runs of the Cincinnati Reds’ season.

It has to be in their heads. They have to be thinking about it when they come to the plate and see teammates standing on the bases, begging to be driven home.

They go into a funk. Whatever it takes not to drive in those runs, they do it. Double play? Done. Pop-up? Done. Get caught in a rundown? Done. Hit a shallow fly ball? Done. Strikeout? Done.

SO FAR, AFTER a week into the 2014 season, the Reds still haven’t figured it out. It was evident again, glaringly, Monday in St. Louis when the Reds lost, 5-3.

They put their leadoff hitter on base in each of the first four innings and didn’t get a single run out of it. In one inning they had runners on first and third with no outs and didn’t get a run.

The St. Louis Cardinals? They know how to get it done. They filled the bases in the first inning against Reds starter Tony Cingrani and Yadier Molina blasted a three-run double.

EVEN WHEN they do put something together, it stalls. They threatened to come back against the Cardinals Monday when they trailed, 5-1, in the ninth.

The first four Reds reached base to start the inning against St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal. They scored one run with four guys reaching base.

And they still had the bases loaded with no outs. One hit ties the game, A big hit gives them the lead.

Instead, catcher Bryan Pena struck out. Pinch-hitter Neftali Soto hit a sacrifice fly to score one more run and Billy Hamilton popped to left to end it.

AND IT IS ABOUT those fundamentals?

In the seventh inning, Pena walked with two outs and the Reds down, 3-1. Billy Hamilton was at the plate. Pena, the slowest runner on the team, broke for second. He was out by the distance between the Gateway Arch and the East St. Louis, Ill.

Was he trying to steal? Against Yadier Molina? Or did Hamilton miss a hit-and-run sign? Because I wasn’t in St. Louis I was unable to ask.

AND THEN THERE was Hamilton in the first inning. He singled to right field and hustled it into a double. He took third on a sacrifice bunt by Brandon Phillips.

The Cardinals were playing their infield in to cut off the run. Joey Votto scrubbed one toward first baseman Matt Adams and Hamilton, inexplicably broke for home, failing to make the ball go through the infield. He was caught in a rundown.

It all added up to Cincinnati’s third loss in four games to the Cardinals already this year with two more to play on this trip. And it adds up to a 2-5 start to the season, three of the five losses by one run when they failed to cash in when the dollars are dangled in front of them.

Early? Absolutely. But if they keep stranding runners, keep failing to put crooked numbers on the scoreboard, sooner than they think it won’t be early any more.

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Price feels ‘heat’ of second-guessers

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave while preparing for a meal at The Bonefish Grille. Nothing better than fish to get a foul taste out your mouth after watching the Cincinnati Reds Saturday afternoon.

Not even momma could have told Bryan Price there would be days like this — day after day after day.

The new Cincinnati Reds manager is quickly discovering the realities of baseball life and right now it stings.

Not every decision is going to turn out right. What you believe is right isn’t always right. But you go with what you believe. Then pray. What’s the old saying, “Man makes plans and God laughs.”

PRICE WAS FACED with a decision Saturday afternoon in Citi Field. His plan?

Well, the Cincinnati Reds led the New York Mets, 3-2, after seven innings Saturday afternoon in Citi Field. It was time to manager his bullpen, manage a bullpen that is missing closer Aroldis Chapman, missing possible closer and set-up pitcher Jonathan Broxton and missed left handed set-up pitcher Sean Marshall.

So his plan was to use Sam LeCure in the eighth and J.J. Hoover in the ninth. That was the advance plan. The first half worked perfectly. LeCure went 1-2-3.

IT WAS LeCURE’S first appearance this season, although he had warmed up three times in earlier games. He hadn’t pitched in a game since spring training, about nine days ago.

So was he fresh? Probably? Was he sharp? Probably not. His first three pitches Saturday were out of the strike zone, but he came back to retired three straight.

So maybe LeCure, who often pitches two and three innings, would go back out there? Price had made up his mind. The ninth was Hoover’s. He had closer’s experience in Triple-A at Loisville.

SO IT WAS Hoover. And it was catastrophic. He faced four hitters in the ninth, didn’t retire a single batter, and it ended stunningly when New York Mets pinch-hitter Ike Davis clobbered a grand slam home run to end the game abruptly, a 6-3 Reds loss.

And all the second-guesser with 20/20 hindsight say, “He should have left LeCure in there.” Maybe so. But if Hoover had gone 1-2-3 for the save we’d all be saying, “That was the right way to go. That was perfect.”

Baseball doesn’t work that way. Never has. Never will. You do what you think is right. And pray. Price’s prayer wasn’t answered.

Asked after the game if he thought about sending LeCure back out for the ninth, Price answered quickly and crisply with one word: “Nope.”

LATER HE SAID, “Hoover has been very reliable. It was just one of those days. Nothing went right. Nothing worked.”

Hoover faced the post-game media music and said, “I certainly was the goat today. I didn’t throw strikes, didn’t let my defense do its work.”

That’s because he did what no pitcher should do with a one-run lead, be he closer, set-up, middle or starter. He walked the first batter. Juan Lagares. And he walked a batter who was trying to bunt, Ruben Tejada.

And in the middle of it all, his defense failed him. After Hoover walked Lagares, Anthony Recker bunted up the first base line. First baseman Joey Votto gambled, tried to cut off the tying run at second base. Instead of taking the easy out at first base he tried to force Lagares at second.

FOR AN INSTANT it looked as if his throw, even though it was low and away, worked. Shortstop Zack Cozart snared the throw with his foot on second base. The umpire called Lagares out.

Great play, Joey. But wait a second. The play was close. Mets manager Terry Collins used the newly installed challenge system. So the umpires went to replay.

They showed the replay on television before the decision was rendered. It was obvious. The umpire missed the call. Lagares was safe. And they reversed the call.

Asked if he though Votto made the right play, Price said, “I would iike to have gotten an out on the play. And I would like to have seen some first-pitch strikes.”

ONCE AGAIN THE hard-luck guy was Johnny Cueto, who lost 1-0 to the Cardinals on Opening Day on Yadier Molina’s home run. On Saturday he pitched seven innings and gave up two runs on five hits with three walks and nine strikeouts. He turned over a 3-2 lead.

At least this time he didn’t get the loss.

IT LOOKS AS if rookie catcher Tucker Barnhart is ready to stay in the big leagues. But he won’t as soon as Devin Mesoraco returns, probably Tuesday in St. Louis, Barnhart goes back to Triple-A Louisvlle.

Barnhart started Saturday and had two hits. His defense is impeccable. A couple of years ago he won the Gold Glove for all of the minor leagues. But the Reds signed veteran Brayan Pena to a two-year contract to back up Mesoraco so Barnhart’s rise to the majors is on hold.

BILLY HAMILTON WAS in Saturday’s lineup before the game, but was a late scratch. He jammed the middle finger of his left hand on Friday night during a failed attempt to steal second base a pinch-runner.

Hamilton slid head first and jammed his hand into the foot of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. Price and the Reds should outlaw head-first slides. It close Ryan Ludwick nearly all of last season when he wrecked his shoulder on Opening Day last year sliding head first into third base.

The last guy who knew how to slide head first without tearing something up was Pete Rose.

NEED ANY MORE proof that spring training statistics are a mirage? Roger Bernadina hit over .400 this spring and is still looking for his first hit. So are Zack Cozart and Billy Hamilton, both of whom hit this spring.

Meanwhile, Joey Votto, who didn’t hit well this spring, is off to an excellent start.

AND, NO, Chris Heisey isn’t going to be a regular starter any time soon. He is doing what he does best — providing much-need punch off a very thin bench.

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