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Hoover ‘sucking up’ scoreless innings

CINCINNATI — Lost in the dark clouds of a long losing spell is the resurgence out of the bullpen of J.J. Hoover, a guy who last year couldn’t throw a fastball past Bugs Bunny.

The crowd’s favorite scream at him last year was, “Yeah, you’re a Hoover all right. You suck.”

This year, though, The Real J.J. Hoover, the 2013-2014 J.J. Hoover is back.

Because of a couple of grand slam catastrophes last year and a few other meltdowns, Hoover has not been a go-to guy for the Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price. Most of the time he should have brought a mop to the mound instead of his glove.

BUT HIS SUCCESS is back this year and Price has taken notice. It is why he brought Hoover into a game in the eighth inning Friday night with the bases loaded and two outs with the Reds up two runs. He was facing ever-dangerous Ian Desmond.

Hoover struck him out. While nobody paid attention, Hoover has not given up an earned run since April 21, covering 15 appearances and 13 1/3 innings.

When Price put Hoover into the gut-squeezing situation Friday, it was an event Hoover has been battling to get for a long time.

“I love striking guys out and doing it in that situation was awesome,” said Hoover of his strikeout of Desmond. “I’ve been working to get back into these leverage situations, trying to pitch when the games are closer. It’s a lot more fun.”

PRICE SAID HOOVER was in a situation where it was, “Prove it to me,” and Hoover is proving it.

“He has had to earn it because last year was tough and the beginning of this year had some challenging moments,” said Price.

“Yesterday (Friday) was another step in the elevation of getting into the late stages of games,” said Price. “He wasn’t coming into a 4-2 game down. He was coming into a 4-2 game up with the bases loaded and a really good hitter at the plate.

“He made really good pitches, just off the plate away, didn’t make any mistakes to the middle of the plate that could effect the outcome of the game. He threw the ball with great confidence. That’s the J.J. that we know can help us in those situations.

“Having him come in and pump strikes and command the strike zone and throw with confidence and executive that we saw so consistently in 2012 and 2013 will lead him back into these opportunities.”

DURING HIS 15-year major league career, Jason Marquis has made 377 appearances, 318 as a starter. That includes nine starts this season for the Cincinnati Reds.

At first, all good — 3-1 in his first five starts. And now, all bod — 0-3 in his last four starts. That’s why the 36-year-old right hander now finds himself on a comfortable chair in the bullpen, awaiting a call to action.

“He can do a lot of things,” said Price. “Jason is stretched out to pitch in any role. He is a durable guy who throws the ball over the plate (catching too much of the plate lately),” said Price. “It’s tough, being a veteran guy who has been a starter, no doubt about it. He has to go back to a bullpen situation, but it is an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues and I think he’ll take to it.”

WHAT’S THE LATEST on Billy Hamilton batting ninth in the order?

“it can be a motivating thing,” said Price. “It can be a relaxation thing. Whatever it is, it has to be a positive thing. I don’t know anybody who is 22 or 23 years old starting in center field on a major league baseball team who would have any complaints about where they are hitting in the lineup.”

Hamilton has zero complaints and continues working toward regaining his leadoff spot. He entered Saturday’s game with a five-game hitting streak (6 for 18, .333).

“His focus is helping us win on a daily basis,” said Price. “He continues to work on his game, and needs to, to get better. We have not lost any anticipation that he will be hitting leadoff for a long time. But he has to perform at that level and that’ll start by hitting in the nine-spot for us right now.”

AFTER MISSING THREE starts, second baseman Brandon Phillips returned to the lineup Saturday, although he contributed a pinch-hit sacrifice fly Friday night.

“We sat him out one more day so we wouldn’t have a high percentage of him having a setback,” said Price. “But in the pinch-hit situation we had second and third with one of our better contact hitters who can drive in a run with a fly ball or a ground ball.” Phillips produced the fly ball.




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