A major league manager, by trade, is required to present an optimistic view of his team’s chances to win the division — the ol’ stiff upper lip against all odds. Some managers who know his team has about as much chance as a dandelion in a hurricane, pronounces his club as, “Ready to win the division.”
Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price, a Stanford man, is too smart and too wise to go that far, especially after last year’s team finished next-to-last and did little to improve itself over the winter.
Price, though, gave a good State of the Team assessment Saturday morning at Fifth Third Field before the Reds Caravan made its public stop later in the day at the Wright-Patterson National Museum of the Air Force.
The first order of business, of course, was the Joey Votto Affair. Will he be ready after missing 100 games last season with a distal quadriceps strain that involved a lot of dead and dying tissue in his knee.
Price said he expects Votto to be ready by the end of spring training, but that’s easy to say and the answer won’t be found until Votto takes the field and plays in exhibition games.
“We’ve done all sorts of things to get the rehabilitative process moving,” said Price. “I think he’ll be 100 per cent by Opening Day.”
OF IMMEDIATE CONCERN is the pitching rotation after the team traded starters Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon. Who is No. 4 and who is No. 5. The team hopes left hander Tony Cingrani is No. 4 and No. 5 could come from a cast of thousands.
The first name Price threw out was right hander Anthony DeSciafani, acquired from the Miami Marlins, “And comes highly regarded by our scouting department and the Marlins held him in high esteem not just as a guy with ability but a great competitor.
“We also signed (right hander) Jason Marquis and (left hander) David Holmberg had a real nice September after a couple of rough spot starts for us,” Price added. “He had an ERA under 2.00 in September.”
As guys with outside shots Price mentioned Dylan Axelrod, a late-season addition last year and Cuban defector Raisel Iglesias, whom the Reds signed last year.
“He has four quality pitches, throws hard with a good changeup and two good breaking pitches,” said Price. “He is a great starting option, but our concern is how much we can ask him to pitch after virtually a year off from competition. We’ll have to make a decision whether to let him compete for a starting spot or use him in the bullpen or start him in the minor leagues.”
Cingrani missed the end of the season with shoulder issues but Price said he is fully recovered and ready. The other issue is the development of other pitches to go with his high-rising fastball.
“He has been working on other pitches for a long time,” said Price. “My advice to him would be, ‘You just need to pitch’ He pitched off his fastball all through our minor league system and it didn’t take him long to get to the big leagues. Maybe we’ve been trying to stick a round piece into a square hole or stick a square piece into a round hole. We’ve spent a lot of time working on his breaking pitches. His changeup is greatly improved but his breaking ball hasn’t been as reliable. Maybe we should focus less on the breaking pitch and just let him bully his way with his fastball.”
WITH THE ADDITON of 37-year-old Marlon Byrd as the left fielder, Price was asked about a batting order.
“I have not committed to a batting order,” said Price. “The change in dynamics right now is that we’ll be healthy and we’ve added Marlon Byrd. The one absolute is that we’ll have a prolific hitter in the seven-hole, whoever that will be.
“We’ll have to size up where Votto is, I think Jay Bruce will have a bounce-back year and for the second consecutive year Brandon Phillips banged up his hand and his wrist and was never 100 per cent,” said Price. “A lot of it is just getting back to Goodyear (AZ) for spring training and taking a good hard look at our players.
“The Byrd trade is significant in that it will allow us to stack the lineup and put him where he is best-suited,” Price added. “With the evolution of Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier last year we found two new three and four candidates. We’re bringing back Joey and if Jay is back and Brandon is healthy, with Marlon Byrd it creates a good problem — meaning we’ll have a real good hitter batting seventh.”
Pitchers and catchers and players coming off injuries report to Goodyear Feb. 18 and that’s when the rhetoric subsides and reality sets in.