CINCINNATI — Manager Dusty Baker holds a meeting every day before practice and games at spring training and during one this year he told his Cincinnati Reds, “The Arizona Diamonadbacks led baseball last year with 47 last at-bat wins. Let’s try to beat that.”
Mark down ‘1’ so far for 2012, an Easter Sunday walk-off 6-5 victory against the Miami Marlins.
The Marlins paid a lot of money for a couple of guys this off-season, closer Heath Bell and shortstop Jose Reyes. Both figured prominently in Miami’s demise Sunday in Great American Ball Park — Bell a big part, Reyes a peripheral part.
Miami led, 5-4, when Bell came in for the ninth to close it. Jay Bruce immediately tied it with a home run, his second of the game.
“That guy Bell? He’s one of the best,” said Baker. “If you are going to win, you have to beat the best sometimes.” Bell’s career ERA includes his lowest against the Reds.
Now it was 5-5. Because the Marlins signed Reyes, shortstop Hanley Ramirez had to move to third base, a position he is playing like a wooden soldier.
With one out, Drew Stubbs bounced one high toward third. Ramirez half-heartedly leaped and the ball ticked off the top of his glove into left field. An error? Probably. But it was ruled a hit.
Ryan Hanigan poked a single to right, sending Stubbs to third and bringing up pinch-hitter Scott Rolen. Rolen ripped one down the third base line. Ramirez tried to stop it like a hockey goalie, falling to both feet. But the ball banged off his glove and rolled just to his left as Stubbs scored the game-ender. An error? Probably. But it was ruled a hit, a game-winning, game-ending it.
“Bell is one of the best closers in the game, but I got a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it,” said Bruce of his game-tying home run in the ninth, a fastball middle-away that Bruce propelled over the left-center fence.
Just as his ninth-inning home run tied the game, his sixth-inning home run off Carlos Zambrano tied it, 4-4, after Zambrano had retired 16 of the previous 17.
“It was either a split-finger or a change-up, but I’m not really sure because he kind of mixes those up,” said Bruce. “It was at the bottom of the zone, with two strikes, and I hadn’t had a great day so far up to that point (0 for 2) because he was making pitches and I kind of got away from my approach of taking everything up the middle.”
Aroldis Chapman pitched the eighth and ninth, giving up one hit while striking out three to gain the win and his manager’s praise of, “Chappie did a great job in his two innings. He had a masterful two innings.”
HIS RECORD WAS 9-12 last year and he was weakened by Valley Fever and he was desecrated by the home run ball.
All that was last year for pitcher Bronson Arroyo, a year he’d like to remove from the calendar and his memory bank.
But, as manager Dusty Baker says, people won’t let him forget it.
“Bronson has no problem with confidence, regardless of last year, and we’d like to get him off to a good start,” said Baker. “It would be nice if everybody would talking about it (last year), because you’re talking about last year and you can’t bring it back.”
Bring it back? Arroyo says a big, fat no to that.
“You have good years and bad years, but we need the wins,” said Baker. “He has been throwing the ball well, a lot better than he did.”
But speaking of Arroyo’s weakened condition last year, Baker said, “This is a very hard game if you don’t feel good. That gets in your head, too. If you feel right physically then you feel strong and feel like yourself.”
Baker said Arroyo indulged in some overcompensation last year.
“There were times when Bronson tried to invent stuff and he’s already invented quick a bit of stuff, different pitches, different movement, different deliveries, different arm slots.”
ARROYO STARTED Sunday’s game and held the Marlins scoreless for four innings, gave up one unearned run in six innings before it came apart in the seventh, a three-run burst. He hit the first batter with a pitch, gave up a single over the third base bag, then a double.
Baker stuck with him and he got the second out, but gave up a single to Emilio Bonafacio to put Miami ahead, 5-4.
In 6 1/3 innings, Arroyo gave up four earned runs (five total) on 10 hits, needing only 82 pitches, 64 strikes.
“Other than the seventh inning, I was happy,” he said. “I commanded every pitch, kept my pitch count down and did what I wanted all day long. But sometimes you open a can of worms when you hit a guy to lead off an inning and sometimes you can’t put the lid back on things.
“If I could feel the way I felt today every time out, I’d be thrilled,” he said. “I felt strong and I there was nothing out there I felt I couldn’t do. My body wasn’t tiring and I felt I was on top of my game.”
ALTHOUGH HE doesn’t like to explain his lineups and batting orders — it is a bit tedious when he is forced to explain it every day when sometimes it is obvious — Baker patiently gave a rundown of Sunday’s lineup.
Scott Rolen was given a day off, which is self-evident — day game after night game. When he walked into the clubhouse Sunday morning and saw the lineup card without his name, he smiled and said laughingly, “Heck, yeah. We’re finally trying.”
Said Baker, who had Miguel Cairo at third base, “Cairo did a great job last year, right? But I also have Willie Harris and Wilson Valdez to play there. I have some options.
“We have a soft thrower (Carlos Zambrano) going against us today and Cairo has had some success against him. Harris has had very little success. And Cairo has played third a lot when Bronson Arroyo pitches because that left side of the infield gets a lot of action.”
Ryan Ludwick was in left field instead of Chris Heisey and Baker said, “Ludwick has hit Zambrano better than anybody here.”
SPEAKING OF ZAMBRANO, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan was in the clubhouse before Sunday’s game, engaged in a long conversation with Joey Votto, who was picking Morgan’s brain.
As Morgan turned to leave, he asked, “Who’s pitching for the other guys today?”
When told it was Zambrano, Joe smiled and said, “You guys should beat up on him. He is going to come right at you.”
The Reds scored three runs off him in the first inning, then had only one more baserunner through the fifth until Jay Bruce’s first home run.
HOMER BAILEY has a new dressing cubicle in the clubhouse on Starters Row. Last year he dressed across the room with the relief pitchers.
“That wasn’t very lucky for me,” he said. In order, Starters Row consists of Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto and, uh, are you ready, Aroldis Chapman.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Dusty Baker, on his team coming from behind in the ninth inning to win: “Winning like that never gets old, but it sure makes me old.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY II:Tweet