CINCINNATI — One good thing about the current state of the Cincinnati Reds is that fans can go to Great American Ball Park these days and hear walk-up songs they’ve never heard before.
After a month away from the ballpark to permit the scraping away of a 99 per cent blockage in my carotid artery, I walked into the clubhouse Friday afternoon and was confronted with a room full of strangers.
Who ARE these guys?
SINCE THE ALL-STAR break, everywhere I’ve gone fans have approached and said, “The Reds stink, they are terrible. I can’t even watch ‘em.”
They are half right. Due to many circumstances, most of them of their own makings and within their control, the Reds are terrible. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun to watch, doesn’t mean there isn’t something to see and appreciate from the depths of a 30-game deficit in the standings.
HOW ABOUT RAISEL Iglesias? Isn’t he a pleasure to watch? Right now he is a junior version of Johnny Cueto. And unfortunately he has inherited Cueto’s curse of his team not scoring runs when he pitches. The 25-year-old Cuban expatriate owns all the tools and skills to be a No. 1 and for sure a No. 2 operative in the rotation.
HOW ABOUT EUGENIO Suarez? Isn’t he a pleasure to watch? The 23-year-old shortstop swings the bat as if he came out of the womb carrying a Louisville Slugger. Just before the Reds acquired him from the Detroit Tigers Suarez gave up trying to be a switch-hitter and stayed swinging from the right side.
And he has burst into a powerful hitter. So what happens next spring when shortstop Zack Cozart returns? Before getting hurt Cozart was splicing together his best offensive season and was, as always, a leaf-sucking truck at shortstop.
It is obvious the Reds have to find a spot for Suarez and shortstop isn’t it, unless they trade Cozart. He is 29 and on the brink of commanding big bucks, something the Reds are trying to shed. But due to his injury Cozart might be difficult to deal, so what’s left? How about trying Suarez in left field? And why not start it right now, give him a taste of it before foisting it upon him next spring.
HOW ABOUT AROLDIS Chapman? Isn’t he a pleasure to watch? Well, he is when he pitches and spins the numbers on the speed gun at 102 and 103. Chapman is the Professor of Ooooohs and Aaaaaahs. But because the Reds don’t have that many save situations he doesn’t appear nightly.
Manager Bryan Price brought him into the eighth inning of a tie game on the recent trip, his first foray into pitching two innings this season. That probably should have been done earlier this season, especially very early in the year when the Reds kept blowing games in the eighth inning. It is too late to make that work this year, but it is something that should be considered for next year — bring The Big Fella into the eighth inning of a tie game or a game the Reds lead by one or two runs.
AND MOST OF ALL, how about Joey Votto? He was the best player in baseball in 2010 when he won the National League Most Valuable Player Award.
He hasn’t approached that plateau since and early this year I wrote that the 31-year-old first baseman never again would come close to that magic season.
I was wrong. Dead wrong.
DURING THE SECOND half of this season Votto has been the closest thing to offensive perfection a player can get. The numbers are mind-numbing, or as Todd Frazier said, “The numbers Joey is putting together are Little Leagu numbers, numbers I put up when I was 12.”
It may not be fun to watch a guy walk three times a game, which Votto has done 12 times this season among his league-leading 116 walks. But it is a testament to Votto’s discipline and knowledge of the strike zone. And it is evidence that opposing pitchers fear to give him fat pitches to hit, knowing they might land in the Ohio River or off the left center wall.
The walks? The object of baseball is to score runs and to score runs somebody needs to get on base. Votto’s on-base percentage since the All-Star break is .576, seventh highest ever. And the names in front of him are Barry Bonds (four times) and Ted Williams (twice).
And Votto’s OPS since the All-Star break is an absurd 1.324. That is ninth all-time and the same two players are above him, Bonds and Williams, who happenes to be Votto’s idol.
“He is getting to his power, driving a lot of balls to left center with power,” said manager Bryan Price. “He is hitting the ball on the screws and not missing a lot of pitches. And he is our best hitter so he gets pitched the toughest and that makes it even more impressive. He doesn’t expand his zone. He fights off good pitches with two strikes until he gets the pitch he wants to hit.”
HOW ABOUT BILLY Hamilton? Isn’t he a pleasure to watch when he is off the disabled list and on the bases? There isn’t a more exciting baserunner in baseball — when he finds his way to first base.
Hamilton is on the disabled list with a right shoulder injury but began throwing this week, took some hitting in the under-the-stands batting cages and on Friday took batting practice with the team.
It is hoped he is healed enough to play a couple of games in the minors and then return to the Reds, but the minor league season ends after Monday’s games in most leagues and time is fleeting on the fleet-footed Hamilton.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to heal this quickly, but I have and my goal is to get back quickly and finish the season,” he said. “It isn’t fun not being with the guys you go to war with every day. You don’t want to just watch, you want to play with them. Not being part of the baseball game isn’t good for me.”