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TEMPE, Ariz. — His name was Phil Denis, but nobody knew him by that name or called him that. He was ‘Boomer’ to one and all and he was a true living Damon Runyan character.
Boomer knew everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, in Sarasota when the Cincinnati Reds trained there and he worked the press box, keeping score and distributing box scores.
When we met the first year the Reds were in Sarasota we took an immediate liking to each other because of a mutual love — greyhound racing. After I luckily hit a few trifectas I was no longer Hal, I was ‘Captain,’ as in Captain Greyhound and he always called me ‘El Capitano.’
Boomer’s nickname came from his booming voice and he was the track announcer at one time at the Sarasota Kennel Club. He was nearly fired one night when there was a photo finish and Boomer boomed over the public address system, “Hold your tickets, hold your tickets until the judges check theirs before making their decision.”
BOOMER DROVE A small SUV and he called it the chariot and the chariot was at my disposal. He hauled me everywhere — Starbucks, restaurants, the dog track, the ballpark. And he never asked for a thing except each year he asked for a Cincinnati Reds media guide to give to Leo McCarthy, general manager of the track, a man he called ‘Papa.’
Because of Boomer I had full run of the Sarasota Kennel Club and even presented the trophy one night after a stakes race and I’m sure the owner and trainer of the winning greyhound wondered, “Who the hell is this guy?”
Boomer was a Boston Red Sox fans and always wore his Bosox cap. How true of a fan was he? He wouldn’t say the name of the New York Yankees. He called them, ‘The Rat Bastards.’
After a long, tough struggle — Boomer knew it no other way — he succumbed Saturday to cancer. I’ve missed him since the Reds moved to Arizona and now I miss him even more. And just for you, Boomer, I hope the Red Sox beat the Rat Bastards every time they play that team from The Bronx.
THE MANAGER’S CHALLENGE on an umpire’s call was in effect Sunday and, as umpire supervisor Randy Marsh of Northern Kentucky said, “It turned out to be an umpire’s nightmare.”
The Angels Luke Conger singled home a run in the fifth inning and tried for second on the throw home. Reds shortstop Ramon Santiago appeared to apply the tag, but umpire Jim Reynolds called him safe. Reds manager Bryan Price challenged, which forced the umpires to check the videotape.
Unfortunately, there were only four cameras available to the umpires at the time and none could zoom-in or slow down the action. It was inconclusive. Then, after they refused to change the call, the Angels’ local TV feed showed it clearly on the stadium scoreboard, “Which they aren’t supposed to do,” said Marsh. He was out. “But it was too late to change the call,” said Marsh.
“It took so long because we couldn’t see anything, we were very limited,” said Marsh. “After they got finished, a fifth view comes in, the Angels camera that was being shown in the stadium. With that view they would have flipped the call, but they didn’t get it until we made the decision.”
This won’t happen during the season, “Because we’ll have 12 different feeds in New York from each game. We’ll get ‘em all,” said Marsh. “This was limited. I wondered why it was taking so long. I went down to the umpires and they said, ‘We didn’t get it until the whole thing was over.”
BECAUSE IT WAS only an exhibition game, a 3-1 loss, Price was not upset with the foul-up and said, “It worked out well. We didn’t get the call overturned, but we had the chance to do the dialogue with the umpires. I’m aware of what happened. But as far as the protocols go, as far as going out there and engaging in the do’s and don’t’s.
“One thing that was terrific was that the umpires converged to make sure I didn’t have to use an unnecessary challenge if maybe one of them had a clearer vantage point and could over turn the call before I used my challenge,” said Price. “Pretty interesting stuff. They conferred and nobody had it differently so I challenged.”
JOHNNY CUETO HAD SOME mechanical flaws the last time he pitched this spring, misplacing his release point to cause him to fly open on his delivery. There were no problems Sunday against the Los Angeles Angeles of Anahiem California USA. He pitched four innings and gave up no runs and two singles, no walks and struck out two.
“Jeff Pico (pitching coach) and I worked a lot in the bullpen between starts on the mound and did a lot of drills and you can see the results,” said Cueto.
One of the two hits off Cueto was an broken-bat bloop single to right field by Albert Pujols. The two had a conversation during Albert’s at-bat, but it was pleasant and comical — had nothing to do with Cueto’s significant part in the 2010 brawl with the St. Louis Cardinals when Pujols was in St. Louis.
“It was friendly and he told me, ‘Hey, you throw me too many funny things, too many breaking pitches. C’mon, throw me a fastball,’” Pujos said, according to Cueto. And Cueto’s answer? “No, I’m working.”
SOME OF THE Reds young players were injected with a large dose of the sidearm offerings of veteran Joe Smith, who pitched at Wright State University and pitched for the Cleveland Indians until moving this year to the Angels.
Smith struck out Yorman Rodriguez (Y-Rod) to start the inning, retired Argenis Diaz on a grounder to third, gave up a double to Kristopher Negron and ended the inning by striking out Donald Lutz.
COACH/SPECIAL ASSISTANT Miguel Cairo spotted me handing a cigar to trainer Tomas Vera, who also serves as Aroldis Chapman’s translator. Said Cairo, “That cigar isn’t going to get you any private interview with Chapman.”
AS I WALKED INTO a restroom in the Goodyear Ballpark press box I immediately spotted a woman at the sink and quickly said, “One of us in the wrong bathroom and I think its me.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Bryan Price on his approach to arguing with umpires: “I’ll use diplomacy first and rant-and-rave second. I’m no base-thrower (like Lou Piniella) because I’d probably throw my back out, a bad way to go on the DL.”
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GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Talk about an Unforgettable Moment? This one was an all-timer.
There was a game in 2010, when Dusty Baker was manager and Bryan Price was the pitching coach, that the Cincinnati Reds led by 9-3 in Atlanta going into the bottom of the ninth.
The Braves, though, rallied and won it with seven runs, finished off by a walk-off grand slam home run by Brooks Conrad that hit the top of left fielder Laynce Nix’s glove and went over the fence.
It was a devastating, dastardly defeat. It was one you don’t forget, especially when the team has to leave town immediately and think about it for the entire flight to Cleveland.
Price, now the manager of the Reds, told a story Saturday about how Dusty Baker handled that defeat and how Price learned something from it.
“The best thing that happened was that after we flew to Cleveland Dusty called a mandatory meeting of all the players and coaches in the lobby bar (of the Marriott Key Hotel). Everyone had to get a drink and say, ‘OK, that one is over with. We have to back to work tomorrow.’ And we beat Cleveland the next day and got the bad taste out of our mouths that was left over that the alcohol didn’t kill.”
Asked if that was a learning even for him, Price said, “Yeah, it was. You don’t want to get used to accepting losses like that, but you have to learn to be resilient, get past them. They do happen. They stink when they do, but you just can’t let them stay with you. And certainly winning the next day makes a difference.
“What Dusty did was a great idea — a message not to let that game carry over to tomorrow. We’re beyond it and it only counts as one loss and let’s start over tomorrow. Without that there was just no way to let it go. Nobody could let it go.”
IT WAS A bleary-eyed Todd Frazier in Saturday’s lineup after he flew for 11 hours over the past 24 hours.
He flew home to New Jersey expecting the birth of his son to be induced but when he got there the doctor said Frazier’s wife wasn’t ready. So he flew back to Arizona.
“The doctor said no,” said Frazier. “I guess he doesn’t know what I do for a living and where I work. We don’t train in Florida. Now I’m going to have to explain 40 times (to his teammates) what I’m doing here.
THERE WAS A true Arizona-type game Friday when the Reds sent a split-squad team to Peoria to beat the Seattle Mariners, 10-9.
“We walked seven guys and they walked four,” said manager Bryan Price. “We did some damage. Chris Heisey killed two balls (home runs) and Brandon Phillips crushed one. Christopher Negron had a nice triple which drove in Corky Miller from first — which was fun to see (Miller run).”
The Reds led 8-0, then led 8-3, then it was 8-8, then the Reds took a 10-8 lead. The Reds had two outs and nobody on in the ninth with the 10-8 lead and struck out a batter, “But it got past the catcher and he reached base, then there were two wild pitches to send him to third before we got the last out.” Just another Arizona Friday.
JAY BRUCE HIT a mammoth home run Friday against White Sox pitcher Felipe Paulino that just missed clearing an outer fence and leaving the ballpark. Asked if he got all of it, he smiled and said, “Yeah, I think I did.” And did he see it land?
“Yes, I did. But it wasn’t as far as the one Joey Votto hit last year that cleared both fences,” said Bruce. “And it was against a far superior pitcher (Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers).”
AMAZING HOW new baseballs builds a player’s confidence. Teams use baseballs for batting practice until they are knocked soft.
Joey Votto was taking batting practice on a back field before Saturday’s game and noticed, “New baseballs. I can tell. They are going farther.” Said batting practice pitcher Mike Stefanski, “Yeah, about 15 feet.”
DURING HIS NEARLY seven years in the majors, catcher Brayan Pena has stolen two bases and has been caught four times. He hasn’t stolen one since 2009 with Kansas City.
During a game Friday against the Chicago White Sox, he perpetrated the rare delayed steal. He was on first and waited until the catcher was about to throw the ball back to the pitcher. Then he broke for second and shocked everybody. Neither the shortstop nor the second baseman covered second but the catcher threw the ball anyway — to the center fielder. Pena ended up on third base.
“Pena played for Detroit and Kansas City, both intradivision team with the White Sox so they understood he isn’t a straight steal guy, so he had good timing,” said Price.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Risking the ire of the entire southwest United State, where In-N-Out Burger is considered a delicasy, Scottsdale resident Bryan Price said: “I never though their burgers were that good, to be honest with you. I know. Now I’ll get 75 million pieces of Bryan Price hate mail.”
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GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Cincinnati Reds bench coach Jay Bell was the man in charge Friday for the home part of a split-squad game against the Chicago White Sox. Manager Bryan Price accompanied the other half to Peoria to play the Seattle Mariners.
Bell was not successful, a 4-3 defeat, the Reds’ fifth straight loss. But Mike Leake made his first spring appearance and was passable by holding the White Sox to one run and two hits in two innings.
Over in Peoria, Chris Heisey hit two home runs and drove in four runs and Brandon Phillips hit a home run, drove in three runs and scored three and the Reds broke the losing streak, 10-9..
“I managed when I was bench coach with Arizona and it’s fun, nice to get back out there,” said Bell. “But my job is to manage games every day anyway. I just don’t put the signs out there.
“BRIAN IS PREACHING process over results right now and the results aren’t always there, but the process is,” said Bell. “You always love winning, but there is a process he wants to utilize prior to getting to the regular season so we can get production. We want production over anything else.”
There wasn’t much production in Goodyear, only three runs and seven hits, but Jay Bruce hit a home run that nearly knocked down an F16 headed for nearby Luke AFB and it gave the Reds a temporary 2-1 lead in the first inning.
“I know this is Arizona, but that was a blast and it is fun to see Jay’s timing get right there and he has been swinging just that good,” said Bell.
The first four balls hit off Leake were all skulled and shelled, but two were caught and one was a double and the other was a run-scoring single by Adam Dunn. But Leake went 1-2-3 in the second, all ground balls.
“Leake did a great job and it was nice to see him back out on the mound,” said Bell. “He is going to mean a ton to the success of our team this year. I thought he threw fantastic.”
WOULD IT SURPRISE you to know that when Billy Hamilton walked into the clubhouse Friday morning he was wearing a black sweat shirt that said on the front, in bold white letters: ‘Speed Kills.’ Of course it wouldn’t surprise anybody.
JONATHAN BROXTON is a man of few words, very few words and his interviews rarely consist of answers of more than four or five-word sentences.
So it was a shock Friday morning in the clubhouse when he saw me carrying my unlit cigar and said, “Do you ever light that thing?”
We then had a short discussion about cigars and he asked me my favorite cigar (Montecristo White Label Churchill).
I told him that I usually smoke four or five a day and that my wife, Nadine, tells me instead of smoking I should just roll up a $50 bill and burn it and I tell her, “But that doesn’t taste good.”
It was an opportunity to ask about Broxton’s forearm and he progression on rehab. He is throwing off a mound and in his last two bullpens he mixed in breaking pitches.
“It’s going very well,” he said. “Everything is going great. I’m headed in the right direction and I just want to keep it going that way.”
BROADCASTER JIM DAY earned respect from the players Thursday when he was drilled in the back during batting practice by Skip Schumaker and barely flinched, although he said, “I really got smoked.”
Day was standing in foul territory down the first base line with his back to the batting cage when Schumaker connected. Day, though, did not go down. Didn’t even drop his microphone.
THERE IS A reason why pitching coaches preach, cajole and plead for pitchers to throw first-pitch strikes. Statistical analysis revealed that when a batter puts the first pitch of an at-bat in play the batting average is .065.
RETIRED ALTER basketball coach Joe Petrocelli and his wife, Marianne, showed up at camp today, fresh from Las Vegas and Petro said, “I haven’t felt so good in a long time. I should have retired long ago.” Petrocelli, a baseball fanatic, once told me, “I’d trade all 831 wins to play one major-league baseball game at shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds.”
FORMER REDS UTILITY infielder Doug Flynn (he played behind Joe Morgan at second base for The Big Red Machine) has signed a contract to do 20 radio games this season, “When the other guys need a day off,” he said.
HOW CAN THIS be? Brandon Phillips won a Gold Glove last season, emblematic of being the best defensive second baseman in the National League. But when the MLB Network came out with the top ten second basemen in baseball Phillips was not on the list. Not even 10th?
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Todd Frazier displayed how frazzled an expectant father can be when he meant to tell writers that his wife is expected to give birth tomorrow, but said, “My wife is going to be pregnant tomorrow.”
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Tony Cingrani has a novel way to get outs on the basepaths when he doesn’t get outs at home plate.
Pick ‘em off.
Cingrani pitched three innings on a cloudy day against the San Francisco Giants Thursday and he put only three men on base, all via walks. Then he promptly took them off the base.
In the first inning he walked Brandon Belt with two outs. But he caught Belt leaning toward second base and threw to first. Belt broke for second and was thrown out.
In the third inning he walked Ehire Adrdianza and picked him off.
“Always a good way to get ‘em out if you put ‘em on,” he said. “I got run on all over my junior year at Rice University. So I started ding a low leg kick and my move to first just took off It works. Nice to be a lefty, too.”
THE WALKS WERE a result, he said, “Of overstriding because I was trying to throw too hard. I had a couple of battles. Hunter Pence battled me pretty well (eight pitches).”
It was Cingrani’s second start of the spring and his goal was simple. “It wanted to get my breaking ball over the plate early in the count,” he said. “I put some pressure on myself to do that. I was trying to locate the fastball and fine-tune my mechanics. The first two innings I was just trying to throw everything too hard.”
Cingrani also is working hard on a slider to complement his plus-plus fastball and said, “It was a little hit or miss. I threw a couple good ones and at least they weren’t popping out of my hand like last year. They were located down and I just have to locate them for strikes. As long as they don’t go over the fence we’re good.”
DEVIN MESORACO WAS his catcher Thursday and is dutifully impressed with the 24-year-oldd Chicagoland native
“The first thing everybody sees about him is that competitor that he is,” said Mesoraco. “Last year he was pitching off just one pitch (fastball) and blowing it right by them, which was fun to see.
“Down here this spring he has been one of our most improved guys. He has been able to throw a slider for strikes and thrown it off the plate against left-handers. He has improved the slider immensely,” Mesoraco added.
“His fastball is always going to be there, a special pitch, that he was able to get by with. But hitters will change their approach to him but with his other stuff, and the fastball, he’ll still be able to be successful. It is fun to how he is evolving,” Mesoraco added.
MANAGER BRYAN PRICE excused the three walks because, “He’s working on betting a stronger feel for his slider and his changeup. His changeup was excellent and he took some risks with his breaking ball. He threw a 3-and-2 breaking pitch for a walk to Pablo Sandoval. He used it backwards sometimes — 1-0 and 2-1 — and it got him in trouble because he missed with them.
“The pickoffs were terrific,” Price added. “He has an excellent move. “He is an extremely talented guy who had some setbacks with his lower back and hip last year that we believe we’ve gotten past.”
TODD FRAZIER WASN’T supposed to play Thursday because his wife is expected to undergo a Cesarean section for the birth of their son in New Jersey.
He checked his smart phone after every inning and said, “I was supposed to fly out of here at 5 o’clock, but that isn’t going to happen. My wife moved my flight back to 11:50 and it is 50/50 right now if it is going to happen tomorrow.
WHENEVER an out-of-town writer comes to camp, the story and interview they always pursue is Billy Hamilton. And he is the only real story. And it puts the pressure on manager Bryan Price to say something different. But he always come through.
In the first inning of Wednesday night’s game against the Dodgers, Hamilton dragged a bunt past the pitcher. The first baseman had to field the ball and Hamilton easily beat the second baseman, who tired to cover first base. Hamilton had another bunt for a hit after spending an extra month in camp (January) working on his bunting.
“Speed is a phenomenal tool,” said Price. “He has himself two bunt hits already this spring. He had one bunt hit with the third baseman playing in. It’s the whole Brett Butler/Mickey Rivers thing. If he gets it down away from the catcher he has a good chance of getting on.
“DEFENSIVE PLAYERS always field a ball and have a step-and-throw mentality,” said Price. “That won’t work with Billy. It’s not a step-and-throw moment with Billy. You have to pick it up and throw it. You see it. Anybody who fields a ball he hits you see the difference in what you consider their natural game speed. They speed up everything and it changes their ability to execute.”
Price considers Hamilton the team’s own special Energizer Bunny, “Because when he gets on base he not only energizer our team he energizes the fans. Speed is a dynamic tool. It is like when Aroldis Chapman comes in and throws 100 miles an hour.”
Price then laughed and said that Chapman throwing 100 is nothing special any more, just routine, “Now it has to be 102 or 103. There is an expectancy now with Hamilton and inevitably it will ebb, but right now it is a special electricity.”
When asked about his favorite Hamilton ‘speed moment,’ Price went on the defensive. Literally. “I liked him running straight back and making a nice over the head catch in center field,” he said.
BRANDON PHILLIPS IS not talking the the Cincinnati beat writers, but does give interviews to TV and to national writers. When Phillips played in Cleveland he didn’t talk to the Indian s beat writers one spring and The Plain Dealer baseball writer Paul Hoynes called Phillips, “The media mute.”
MAT LATOS, MIKE LEAKE and Jonathan Broxton all did their bullpen work at the same time Wednesday afternoon and Price was asked how special that was to see all three at once on the mound.
“It was special, but the first part was seeing that they were all feeling good,” said Price. “Mat wasn’t holding back and neither was Leake. Broxton looks great. He got into his breaking ball for the first time and was a little reluctant at first, which is part of the process. Then he gained some trust and really started to crack off some good breaking balls.”
IT IS OBVIOUS THERE is a San Francisco connection when a writer pulls out all the equipment to grind coffee beans, then brews it and drink it in the press box. That’s what Comcast writer Andrew Baggarly did in the third inning of Thursday’s Reds-San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale Stadium. It smelled so good I wanted to walk two blocks to the closest Starbucks.
FORMER BIG RED Machinist George Foster sells his autograph for charity at every home game in Goodyear, but he was in Scottsdale Stadium Thursday signing autographs at a table with three pitchers — Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Gaylord Perry and non-Hall of Famer John “Blue Moon” Odom.
In 1977, when Foster hit 52 home runs, as good as those three pitchers were, it is doubtful they could have kept Foster in the park.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I got a nice five-hour sleep last night at the Homewood Suites (near Goodyear), more than I usually get.” — Bryan Price, when asked why he didn’t stay at his home in Scottsdale Thursday night because the Reds played San Francisco on Friday in Scottsdale, 10 minutes from his home.
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GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Matt Latos, Mike Leake and Jonathan Broxton, The Recovering Triumverate, all threw off a bullpen mound late Wednesday afternoon.
They did it under the watchful eyes of their chief caretaker, team medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek.
It was Dr. Kremchek who performed surgery last October to remove bone chips from the right elbow of Latos and then performed arthroscopic meniscus surgery on Latos’s left knee on February 13. He also repaired the torn forearm flexor on Broxton.
“They all looked great,” said Kremchek. “Latos threw about 25 pitches effortlessly and Broxton threw about 30 and mixed in some breaking pitches.” Leake is scheduled to make his spring training exhibition game debut Friday and said, “I’ll be ready. I am ready.”
WHAT GOOD CAN come of a 10-3 beating the Cincinnati Reds took from the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday night? Well, actually, a lot.
Homer Bailey pitched three scoreless innings (one hit, two strikeouts) and retired the first six. Billy Hamilton led the bottom of the first with a bunt single and scored a run. He singled in his second bat-bat to drive in the Reds second run. Todd Frazier had a a hit, a walk and a couple of defensive highlights.
Asked if he is interested in pitching Opening Day, Bailey said, “I don’t care when I pitch, just give me the ball.”
So, actually, the Reds regulars led, 2-0, when all the regulars packed their gear and head for the bus to take them to the clubhouse. Then the Dodgers whipped up on the irregulars.
Cuban defector Alex Guerrero, to whom the Dodgers signed to a four-year $28 million contract in October, hit a grand slam home run off Jeff Francis in the fifth and the Dodgers scored four more in the sixth off Sam LeCure, including a long home run by Adrian Gonzalez.
Francis encountered some tough luck during his four-run inning when Jay Bruce slipped and fell on the loose turf chasing a fly ball and it dropped. The Reds kicked the ball around a bit and soon the bases were loaded.
“These games don’t count and the won-loss record is not terribly important, but we’d like to see some better execution,” said manager Bryan Price. “We’ve struggled to avoid the big inning the last few games and we gave up 10 runs in three innings tonight and that’s just not what we’re about.”
Of Bailey, Price said, “His arm looks really good, already in shape. His fastball velocity was good and he threw a couple good sliders. He had command of his delivery and command of his stuff.”
THE SUBJECT WAS velocity and all the pitchers in camp who can throw in the upper 90’s — not including Aroldis Chapman and his plus-100.
There is converted outfield Michael Lorenzen, who hit 98 miles per hour in a game Tuesday and No. 1 draft pick (2011) Robert Stephenson, who hit a consistent 96 and Jumbo Diaz who touched 98.
There were reports that some scouts had both Lorenzen and Stephenson toucheding 100, but manager Bryan Price said of Lorenzen and Stephenson, “I did see what they were doing on the scoreboard and they were both up to 98. Lorenzen was throwing easy and throwing hard and there is a lot of deception when you do that. That’s a nice arm. He doesn’t labor to get the velocity. You can’t teach velocity.”
What Price wants to see is how those hard throwers react when they get hit, as they will in the Cactus League.
“The best thing that happens in this camp is when hard throwers give up some hits,” he said. “They think they should be able to manage an inning or two with just their fastballs if you command it. Sheer velocity, with rare exceptions like Chapman, does not overpower big league hitters.
“This is a good introduction for our young power arms who put velocity on the ball but their pitches still find bat barrels with some regularity,” Price added. “You have to manage the strike zone and you have to pitch down. We’ve lost four games and in all four we’ve given up four or more runs and they were against our guys with a lot of velocity. You have to command the bottom of the zone better.”
What Price did like was that even though Stephenson and Lorenzen saw their fastballs whacked, “The beauty of it was they didn’t back down. They still went right after the hitters. You are going to give up hits and runs in the Cactus League. That’s part of playing out here. But they kept attacking the strike zone and that’s very impressive.”
FROM THE ‘For What It Is Worth Department’ — Bovada of Las Vegas predicts that the Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit Tiger will play in the 2014 World Series, although the St. Louis Cardinals have better odds than the Tigers.
The Dodgers are 13 to 2 and St. Louis is 8 to 1 to Detroit’s 9 to 1. The Cincinnati Reds are 22 to 1, the 13th pick among the 30 teams.
But I haven’t seen anybody from Bovada watching spring training games.
FORMER REDS outfielder Adam Dunn made a cameo appearance on MLB-TV Wednesday to talk about his attendance at the Academy Awards after his non-speaking bit part as a bartender in the movie Dallas Liars Club.
Asked if anybody recognized him as a professional baseball player, Dunn said, “No, they probably thought I was a security guard.”
UMPIRE SUPERVISOR Randy Marsh, a former outstanding National League umpire, was in camp Wednesday to go over rules interpretations with manager Bryan Price and general manager Walt Jocketty.
As he pulled out of the driveway, he spotted me getting out of writer Gary Schatz’s car and said, “Do you let him drive you?” Schatz quickly said, “It is better than an umpire driving him.”
MY GRANDSON, BECKETT, reprimanded me in the stands at Goodyear Ballpark tonight I reported in the blog yesterday that he is 4-years-old. “Papaw, I’m five and don’t you remember you had my party at your house?” Whoops.
Beckett was on the giant message board in the bottom of the first inning and won some ice cream. Well, he won some sprinkles. He didn’t eat the ice cream.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: The Reds played the Dodgers in a rare night game Wednesday and new manager Bryan Price asked if he liked spring training night games: “Well, the est thing about it is that you get to sleep in (he gets up at 4 a.m. for day games)” “
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SURPRISE, Ariz. — Jay Bruce is, obviously, a team player and a man confident in himself. The Reds were taking batting practice Tuesday morning when Ryan LaMarre, a top outfield prospect, approached Bruce. LaMarre has gained notice with some long home run this spring in batting practice.
Bruce, tough, approached him about hands placement in his stance— up high, mid-section, down low? Even though LaMarre, an outfielder, might some day challenge Bruce for his job, Bruce talked with LaMarre for 10 minutes, displaying hands placement. And when they finished, Bruce said, “If you want to go into the video room and watch some video together, just let me know.”
Bruce said he and LaMarre have hit it off, become friends, and Bruce recognizes, “That he has a lot of offensive talent and he is going to play in the big leagues. We have a really good relationship, have become friends. I’d heard a lot about him and I’ve seen him play. He really is a talent and I’ve gotten to know him.
“I’m no hitting guru but I can offer my perspective and we bounce things off each other,” Bruce said. “We just talk and it isn’t a teacher-student type thing. We’re a couple of guys talking baseball.”
LaMarre begs to differ, though, and said, “What’s crazy is that we are only a year apart (Bruce is 26 and LaMarre is 25), but he is like a father-figure to me. I came up for a few spring training games a couple of years ago and he took me under his wing, tried to show me the ropes, how are things supposed to go.
“Any time a guy like that offers you hitting advice you perk your ears up,” said LaMarre. “Even though he is only 26 he has been doing it the right way for a long time. Whatever he has to say you stop what you are doing and listen. He noticed a few things in my swing, so we worked in the cage and batting pracitce.”
And LaMarre took it to the field Tuesday afternoon. He had a single in his only at bat in a 9-5 Cincinnati Reds lost to the Kansas City Royals. Asked if Bruce has taken him out to dinner yet, LaMarre said, “Yes, a couple of times and we talked — him telling me how it is and what he did to stay up here.”
AT THE TIME, Bruce had reached base in his last two games five straight times — three hits, two walks — and Reds manager Bryan Price was asked how close Bruce is to being an MVP-type player.
Price was asked how close Bruce is to be oming an MVP-type player and he said, “Really close and I wouldn’t be surprised at anything Jay accomplishes because he has the commitment and the mentality and the desire to be great,
“He is already a special defender and a special run producer with power and extra base hits,” said Price. “He is underappreciated as a runner because he can steal a few bases.
“In order to be that type of player you have to have some of the intangibles and Jay has those,” said Price. “He has a sense of accountability to perform well and to show up ready to play every day He doesn’t take games off or at-bats off and he is driven to be excellent. And he is a selfless players.”
Selfless? Absolutely. Ask Ryan LaMarre.
JOEY VOTTO was not on the original lineup card for a game Monday in Goodyear against the Seattle Mariners. But he asked to play.
“He wanted a couple more at-bats,” said manager Bryan Price. “We talked to our core players about how we’d get out of the blocks (early spring training games) and said they mostly would play every other game.
“Votto wanted to see a few more pitches, have a couple of at-bats, so it was easy to accommodate that request,” said Price.
And Votto singled and drove in a run in his second at-bat.
SOME WERE SURPRISED Monday when Aroldis Chapman, making his second appearance of the spring, walked to the mound for a second inning.
It is part of a grand plan. The Reds want him to work on his slider and off-speed pitches, so they are going to stretch him out to three innings and give him the work. “He threw eight change-ups,” said Price. He probably didn’t throw eight change-ups all last season.
MANAGER BRYAN PRICE dropped an old-school term on the writers today when he said, “We are optimistic that Mat Latos will be able to toe the slab on Wednesday.”
He meant, of course, that Latos would pitch off the mound, putting his foot on the pitching rubber, “toeing the slab.”
When that drew laughs, Price said, “How about this one — ‘A line drive through the box?’ Why is it through the box? My understanding is that when the game was invented there was an actual box in which the pitcher could throw from a variety if spots as long as he remained in the box.”
Price paused for effect and said, “That’s how ou win 511 games, I guess,” a reference to the 511 games won by Denton ‘Cy’ Young, for whom the award is named. “You can’t guys to make even 511 starts any more and that’s a career challenge in of itself. Talk about unbreakable records.”
SO COOL to have my 4-year-old grandson, Beckett, here in Arizona with my son, Brent, and daughter-in-law Tammy.
Beckett played on the miniature field at Goodyear Ball Park, watched the Reds lost to Seattle Monday, then destroyed the salsa, chips and Spanish rice at Raul and Theresa’s Mexican Cantina, proving for sure that he is my grandson.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Bryan Price was asked if he pitched to Jay Bruce, how would he get him out and Price said: “I won’t answer that. I’m not doing advance scouting for the rest of the major leagues.”
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GOODYEAR, Ariz. — There is no better way to spend a few minutes on a balmy Arizona morning than to stand near a baseball field talking to Eric Davis.
People gravitate to the former Cincinnati Reds outfield great — great player, greater person — especially young players.
After talking briefly with outfielder Donald Lutz about the merits of a new glove, Davis said, “The more I talk to these guys the dumber I get.”
Lutz owns a black Rawlings glove and when he walked up Monday morning Davis grabbed the glove. He was astounded. It was well-worn leather, flapping and flopping loosely. The fingers of the glove were so limber it looked as if there is no way he could catch a baseball.
“This thing is going to crack wide open. Get yourself a new glove before you start missing balls.” Said Davis. “The ball is going to fall out.”
“That’s seven years old and has served me well,” said Lutz. “The day I drop a ball you can come and see me.”
Said Davis, “The day you drop a ball it is going to be too late. Your butt will be back in (Class A) Bakersfield. I’m trying to prevent you from going to Bakersfield.”
THE SUBJECT TURNED to bats and how some players like to use thicker handles in cold weather to absorb the vibrations that gives hitters a hand full of bees.
“In cold weather I used a Louisville U-1,” said Davis. “That’s the bat Ted Kluszewski used. The handle was so thick I couldn’t get my fingers around it. There was no way you could break it. If you broke it, they released you because you were terrible, something was wrong.”
COACH BILLY HATCHER, a teammate of Davis’s on the 1990 World Series champions, talked about a bat he once used — a K-55. I had a 34 ½-inch, 35-ounce K-55. I had to choke up so much on that thing that the handle hit me in the ribs when I swung.”
Suddenly the subject turned to Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn and Davis said, “If you played too shallow, he’d hit it over your head and either off the wall or over the wall. If you played too deep he’d dump one in front of you. He’d come up and look around. If he saw you in, he’d say, ‘Oh, you’re gonna play me close?’ It would be, ‘bam,’ over your head and up in those seats. That man was the best hitter ever.”
SO NOW WE know. Aroldis Chapman can’t go two innings. Well, not yet. He started the fourth inning Monday against Seattle and struck out the first two batters. That gave him five batters faced and five batters struck out this spring.
Then he, uh, weakened. Jesse Montero hit a ground ball for an out. Then in the fifth inning Chapman gave up a run and two hits.
WITH SEATTLE in town some wondered if Mariners special assistant Ken Griffey Jr. would come to Goodyear.
“Nope,” said his father, Ken Griffey Jr. “He is in Mexico giving baseball clinics. Before that he was in Cuba. He has a free pass to Cuba for life.” When former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice made Griffey a public diplomat, “She told him he could go anywhere in the world for the rest of his life,” said Senior.
THIS ONE IS no shock because we all know what kind of person Sean Casey is. Kathryn West of Springfield is literally a dyed-in-the-wool Reds fan — nearly everything she owns has a Reds logo on it.
Kathryn is battling lung and brain cancer and can no longer attend Reds games. Her grandson-in-law works in the Cleveland Indians media relations department and attended RedsFest. He was telling a group of people about Kathryn and Sean Casey heard it.
Casey wiped off a silk scarf with the Reds logo on it and told Kipic, “Give this to your grandmother.” Said Kathryn, “When he gave me that scarf I cried. I’ve never been touched lik that.”
FROM REPUCOM, a sports market research agency: Of all Major League baseball fans, 11.9 per cent are New York Yankees fans. The second biggest fan base is for the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves, both at 6.8 per cent of the fans. The Chicago Cubs have 5.2 per cent and the Detroit Tigers have 4.9 per cent. The Reds are in the middle of the pack with 3.0 per cent.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Seattle sent in a pinch-runner Wednesday. His name? Burt Reynolds. Yep, spelled the same way. After making the announcement that Reynolds was pinch-runner, Reds assistant media relations director Jamie Ramsey said, “On deck, Dom Deluise.”
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PEORIA, Ariz. — Billy Hamilton continues to do it right as a leadoff hitter ¬— making pitchers work. In his first game Wednesday his first at-bat of the spring was a 10-pitch affair during which he fouled off four pitches, three on 3-and-2.
Before Sundays game against the San Diego Padres, managere Bryan Price talked about how Hamilton was going to have to conduct hand-to-hand combat with pitchers, battle on every pitch.
Then during the game, leading it off, Hamilton fought pitcher Tyson Ross for nine pitches. He fouled four, one a first-pitch bunt attempt.
It is exactly what Price wants to see.
“I want to see the fight in him and I’ve seen that so far,” said Price. “Teams know they have to attack him, work ahead of him in the count, so he has to take advantage of some of the good pitches to hit early in the at-bat. And he is going to have to grind like a son of a gun in the two-strike situations.
“HE HAS TO put the ball in play and utilize his speed,” Price added, stating the obvious. But it was obvious to Drew Stubbs, too, but he couldn’t much do it. “I have never seen Billy overwhelmed. He wasn’t overwhelmed last September and he doesn’t seem overwhelmed by this opportunity. He has made a full commitment to be our center fielder and our leadoff guy.”
Price said Hamilton does everything asked of him, including sitting on the dugout bench when he isn’t playing to watch opposing pitchers, to get their habit and their tendencies and watch their pickoff moves and deliveries.”
Price had an interesting observation on Hamilton’s speed and base-stealing skills.
“It’s exciting because you don’t see it much, it is less frequent now, the stolen bases, then it was when we were watching Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines and Vince Coleman, guy who were running like crazy.” It was Vince Coleman’s record Hamilton broke two years ago when he stole 155 bases in the minor leagues.
In his second at-bat Sunday, Hamilton doubled to drive in a run.
CLEVELAND INDIANS manager Terry Francona and Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon were both bit players with the Cincinnati Reds in 1987 and their teams played Sunday.
Before the game Francona was talking in the press room and directly above him was a TV showing an ESPN Outside the Lines show featuring former Reds owner Marge Schott.
“She made me ride the zoo elephant at one of her parties,” said Francona. “If you weren’t good enough to say no you had to right the elephant. I wasn’t good enough. Neither was McClendon.”
THE INDIANS ACQUIRED minor-league infielder Justin Sellers from the Dodgers Sunday and when Francona was asked where Sellers fits in, he said, “I don’t know. I’ve never seen him play.” Sellers, though, has played for some minor-league teams with great nicknames: Ports (Stockton), RockHounds (Midland), Lookouts (Chattanooga), 66ers (Inland Empire), Isotopes (Alburquerque) and Quakes (Rancho Cucamonga).
A BLAST FROM the past, relayed from Nolan Ryan through baseball writer Richard Justice, one of the best.
Ryan told Justice that when he pitched for Houston the Cincinnati Reds keep hitting Astros hitters with pitches (probably Pedro Borbon). So before one game he was to pitch, Ryan asked his teammates in the dugout, “Pick one. Which one of their guys do you want me to hit?” Infielder Enos Cabell piped up with, “Johnny Bench.”
So Ryan dutifully plunked Bench. When Cabell came to the plate, Bench asked him, “Why me? Why did he hit me?” Cabell smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I don’t know.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Manager Bryan Price was asked about catcher Brayan Pena’s style of catching with his left leg straight and pointed toward the pitcher and said: “I don’t think that would be my style as a left handed catcher.”
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Mat Latos can’t pitch yet, Jonathan Broxton can’t pitch yet, Sean Marshall can’t pitch yet — and now, surprisingly, Mike Leake can’t pitch yet.
Leake all week long has been scheduled to start Sunday’s in Peoria against the Seattle Mariners but, suddenly, he won’t be making that start.
The Cincinnati Reds are calling it, “an abdominal issue,” whatever an abdominal issue is.
“He did something we didn’t know about, did it about a month before spring training just doing his workouts,” said manager Bryan Price. “It is a little bit of a strain and it didn’t cause him any problems with his bullpen sessions, any of his throwing or lifting.
“He was playing long toss before his last bullpen session and said he felt it, so we’re just being real cautious with it,” Price added. “If it gets worse you are looking at a real setback. So if we skip him one start we are probably looking at an issue that is a non-issue in another five to seven days.”
Ah, nothing like optimism.
Instead of Leake, Brett Marshall, no relation to Sean, will make the start. Marshall, who was with the New York Yankees last year (0-0, 4.50) is in camp on a minor-league contract with an invitation to major-league camp.
FORMER REDS outfielder Drew Stubbs, traded to the Colorado Rockies in the off-season by the Cleveland Indians, was not with the Rockies Saturday.
He had an esophagus problem earlier this week and end up in the hospital. It is something he has encountered before, but never this bad. But he reportedly is OK and plans to play Sunday.
During my annual trip to Wyoming this year with fellow writers and scouts, a Rockies scout quizzed about the makeup of Stubbs. I gave him a glowing report and thought nothing of it.
Two weeks later the Rockies traded for Stubbs, so if he doesn’t like it he can partially blame me.
There were two ex-Reds who made the tripthe Rockies — pitcher Matt Belisle and shortstop Paul Janish. Belisle pitched and gave up a run and two hits in one inning. Janish had a hit then was hit on top of the batting helmet by Reds pitcher Nick Christiani, but Janish took first and stayed in the game and scored a run on a sacrifice fly..
IN LATE MAY the Reds have a night game at home on a Sunday night against St. Louis, then have a 5:05 game in Los Angeles on Monday night.
“We’re going to have to get that Concorde jet out of mothballs to get ourselves across country in a hurry,” said manager Bryan Price. “I get. We can complain all we want but (television) is what is driving baseball’s economy and we all benefit from it
Price recalled his younger days as pitching coach for the Seattle Mariners and thought how wonderful it was to ride airplanes after riding in minor-league buses, “Like from Bellingham, Washington to Boise Idaho (nine hours).
“We had a bus driver who was falling asleep at the wheel all the time and he’d go off the side and we’d hear him hit the speed bumps,” said Price. “One of our coaches would stay up with him to talk to him. Somebody saw him nod off one night and threw a book to the front of the bus and it banged against the windshield. You wanted to be asleep on the bus because you didn’t want to see the way this guy was driving.”
THE BUCKEYE POLICE, suspecting foul play, pulled over our Mercury Marquis de Sade Friday night and said the light was out on the license plate. Fellow writer Gary Schatz has to have one of the last remaining red, white and blue Ohio plates.
IT WASN’T IN our part of Buckeye, but there was excitement this week in the part of Buckeye where Reds coach and former Dayton Dragons manager Freddie Benavides is residing.
“I came home and the street was blocked and their were flashing lights all over the place,” said Benavides. “The SWAT team was there and they proceeded to shoot out all the street lights.”
There was a fugitive, a bank robber from Ohio, holed up in one of the houses and it took five hours to get him out.
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GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Jack Hannahan played the entire 2013 season with a sore shoulder — most likely a torn labrum. And that’s explains a lot.
That explains why the 34-year-old utility infielder hit .232. And it explains why he isn’t playing exhibition games yet.
A week after the season ended, Hannahan underwent an MRI and the torn labrum was discovered. He immediately underwent surgery from Dr. Tim Kremchek.
“I did it about this time last season during spring training,” said Hannahan. “I was playing first base and dove for a ball and felt a twinge in my shoulder. As the season progressed I knew ice and stim were not going to cure it. Playing third base was trying to figure out how to throw a ball across the infield.
“It has been four months since the surgery and it has been a slow recovery process, a lot slower than I want it,” said Hannahan. “I came to camp a month early to start a throwing program. I’m getting stronger every day. I’m swininging in batting practice just fine but there still is some discomfort throwing.”
“It was something he had to battle for the bulk of last year,” said Reds manager Bryan Price. “He is going through the rehab process — taking his swings, taking ground balls. So he is building up the throwing portion of his recovery. That’s typically the biggest challenge in shoulder surgery rehab.
“He is progressing and would like it to go faster, but shoulder surgery takes longer,” Price added.
FROM THE SOME Things Never Change Department: Aroldis Chapman made his spring debut Friday, pitching the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians. And he did what he does so often when he pitches one inning. He struck out the side. His first pitch was clocked at 100 miles an hour and he threw several triple-digit fastballs and touched 101.
PITCHER JONATHAN BROXTON threw off a mound Thursday for the second time this spring as he continues his comeback from forearm surgery.
“He threw 25 pitches and it went really well,” said Price. “He has had no setbacks and we’ve ramped up his throwing since he arrived. He is playing catch every day. He looks great, his delivery looks great and he feels good.”
Broxton was on the disabled list twice last year and finally was shut down on August 22 for season-ending surgery. He made 34 appearances and was 2-2 with a 4.11 ERA.
“He has two days off between each mound session and we incrementally increase the number of pitches he throws,” said Price. “The next step would be throwing every other day. Then he’ll go into games.”
MAT LATOS CONTINUES his rehab program, yipping and yapping with a high-energy interplay with teammates and writers.
“He is doing fine, the progress has been substantial every day,” said Price. “He is doing a lot in the weight room. He is on the field a lot more for extended long toss and some of the pitchers fielding practice. We’re getting closer where he can cut and plant that left knee (surgically repaired), but we’re not there yet.
“That’s the next step that leads to throwing in the bullpen,” Price added. “The good thing is that he has been able to keep his arm in shape.”
OUTFIELDER YORMAN Rodriguez is in his sixth spring training camp with the Cincinnati Reds and he is only 21. The Reds signed him out Venezuela when he was 16.
“He was here before I was,” said Price, who arrived as pitching coach five years ago. “You see him again and you say, ‘OK, this guy should be about 25, but he’s 21. Think about signing as 16. Usually at 16 you are thinking about getting your driver’s license and getting up the nerve to pick up the phone to ask a girl on a date.”
Rodriguez hit .267 at Class AA Peninsula last season, “A significant breakout season for him,” said Price. “At 21 we’re really encourage by what we’re beginning to see out of him. He has shown us a lot with his instincts and his running and throwing ability. He a guy we’re excited about being able to help us in the next year or two.”
IT IS A SPECIAL treat to watch former Reds stars like Tom (Mr. Perfect) Browning and Ken Griffey Sr. pitch batting practice.
Browning threw Friday morning and infielder Argenis Diaz bailed out on a high and tight pitch, to which outfielder Ryan LaMarre said, “Stay in there, we have ice.”
LaMarre then stepped in and hit one out of the park and Browning said, “You’re welcome.” Later Browning said, “Nope, I don’t throw any screwballs (his famous pitch). I’m out there to give ‘em confidence, like LaMarre.”
SPEAKING OF PERFECT games, and Browning owns the only one thrown by a Reds pitcher, former Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer remains the only major-league pitcher to throw back-to-back no-hitters.
But the Reds have one just like him, on a smaller scale. Robert Stephenson, the Reds No. 1 draft pick in 2011, threw back-to-back no-hitters to start his senior season at Alhambra (Calif.) High School.
TODD FRAZIER APPROACHED me Friday morning and saw an unlit cigar in my hand. “You used to give me cigars,” he said. “Since the last time you gave me one I hit .234.” I promised to deliver two cigars on Saturday.
AH, TECHNOLOGY at its finest Friday morning. ESPN was using a drone flying over the practice fields and stadium Friday morning to take video.
Videographer Dominick Orlando had the drone flying about 30 feet above the light towers and said, “It could go higher but I didn’t want to deal with any airplanes.”
There is an airport beyond right field at Goodyear Ballpark where at least 100 commercial airliners sit in a long row, mothballed and stripped for spare parts.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I was freezing when I was outside 10 minutes ago (it was 68 degrees),” said manager Bryan Price, an Arizona resident. Told there was another Storm of the Century predicted this weekend in Ohio, Price said, “We’re going to have the Storm of the Century here as well. We’re going to get a quarter-inch of rain.”
Price said there is an e-mail floating around that shows the aftermath of an Arizona storm. “There are four plastic chairs like you buy at Walmart and one is tipped over and it says, ‘We will rebuild.’”
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