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Search begins for the final pieces

GOODYEAR, AZ. — It is no mystery, no secret and a no-brainer that The Starting Eight is set for the Cincinnati Reds. They may not be The Great Eight, but they are a group mostly chock full of experience. And some of it is under playoff pressure.


Mark this down: C Devin Mesoraco, 1B Joey Votto, 2B Brandon Phillips, 3B Todd Frazier, SS Zack Cozart, LF Marlon Byrd, CF Billy Hamilton, RF Jay Bruce.


It is in other areas in which manager Bryan Price and his staff are trying to straighten question marks into exclamation points.


Mark down that Brayan Pena, Skip Schumaker and Kris Negron will be part of the bench. Mark down that Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake will be three-fifths of the rotation. Mark down that Aroldis Chapman, Sam LeCure and Burke Badenhop will be part of the bullpen.


THERE ARE 64 PLAYERS in camp and they get to stand under the klieg lights for examination beginning Tuesday when the Reds open the exhibition season against the Cleveland Indians.


“We have a lot of guys we need to see at the front end of spring training,” said Price. “Filling the gaps with players who are competing makes it really exciting and I look forward to doing it.”


The Reds, of course, are looking for two rotation plug-ins, maybe three if Homer Bailey needs an extra week or two. Arizona is known to be hard on pitchers, making it difficult to evaluate.


“You know how it works out here,” said Price. “You have light air, hard infields, high skies and you work with catchers you are not used to throwing to. And all that can lead to an environment where a lot of runs are scored.”


SO HOW DOES a team get a true evaluation of a pitcher?


“We have to evaluate from what we see in a lot of different areas,” said Price. “It’s more than line scores and box scores. If you just base it on statistics a lot of guys you thought would make your club wouldn’t make it.


“What we have to see is command, ability to get secondary pitches over the plate when they are behind in the count, how guys compete, how they hold runners,” he said.


OF PICKING A 25-MAN roster, Price said it won’t be easy, but there are more candidates than Miss Universe prospects in Venezuela.


“It’s not nearly as defined and clear-cut as it has been in years past,”he said. “It bodes well for players to come into camp and see spots open. I expect everybody to play hard and feel as if they have a chance to make this ball club. And that bodes will for what we’re trying to do as a team — play hard every minute we are on the field.”


FOR THE FIRSTR exhibition game, Price listed a litany of pitchers to face the Tribe, most of them unfamiliar names after starter Jason Marquis. Others who will pitch are (in no particular order): Keyvius Sampson, J.J. Hoover, Nate Adock, Pedro Villareal, Daniel Corcino and Matt MaGill.


“We have 34 pitchers in camp, not all of them healthy, we will see a lot of names in games early in the exhibition season,” said Price. “You won’t see four or five names on the pitching list. More like six or seven.”


The Reds have also scheduled a ‘B’ for Thursday morning against the Indians, “Which will give four of our younger pitchers to get a chance to get into a game, get their feet wet in a ‘B’ game.


THE SEAN MARSHALL saga continues to drag along. He is playing light catch but hasn’t trudged up a mound yet and there is no scheduled date.


“That’s a tough one to answer,” Price said about Marshall. “We’re trying to get him totally pain-free and he has been a little achy. It is part of the surgical process. They get in there and dig around in that shoulder. I’ve been through it a couple of times myself and it is not a pleasant rehab. There is soreness and discomfort along the way. Defining what he should throw through or back down from is part of the rehab process.”


AS FORECAST, it rained hard all morning and kept workouts inside. The humorous thing was to watch the early morning TV weather reports.


They treated the oncoming rainstorm the way TV stations up north treat oncoming snowstorms. They warned people to drive carefully and carry umbrellas. One station sent a car out into early morning drive time and videotaped from the inside of the vehicle the rain drops falling on the windshield.


It was, uh, riveting TV.


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