CINCINNATI — Tim Melville says he has heard all the wisecracks about Herman Melville, Moby Dick and ‘Call me Ishmael.’
The Cincinnati Reds certainly have a literary lean to their starting rotation with Robert Stephenson and Melville. And, ironically, Stephenson — the pitcher, not the poet — made his major league starting debut for the Reds Thursday and Melville — the pitcher, not the novelist — will make his major league starting debut for the Reds Sunday.
“Herman has been with me for a long time,” Melville said with a laugh. “Related? No, nothing. Not even close.”
Melville was in Toledo with his Louisville Bats teammates Friday, watching huge snowflakes fall, when manager Delino DeShields called him into his office and informed Melville that he was headed for Cincinnati and his major league debut.
“I immediately call my mom but she wouldn’t pick up,” said Melville. “But she finally did and now my pass list for Sunday’s game is growing rapidly.”
MELVILLE IS NOT A Great White Whale in size, but he is a big guy at 6-4 and 227 pounds. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 draft and signed by the Kansas City Royals and has spent seven years in the minors working toward Sunday. He spent all of last season at Triple-A Toledo in the Tigers organization and the Reds signed him last November to a minor league contract with an invitation to the major league camp.
“To compete at the highest level of the game is something you always dream about, to face the best hitters in the game,” he said. “It is something I always wanted to do.”
As he spoke late Saturday morning, he stood at his locker, a locker once occupied by Bronson Arroyo. When he was told that, he said, “Yeah, somebody mentioned that. I’m honored. I met him once and I’ve heard a lot of good things about him. And he has had a great career.”
And Melville’s is just starting.
“It is a moment that has been building my whole life,” he said. “There is a lot of excitement and the nerves are there but I’m prepared.”
MELVILLE, A GUY with a pleasant, pleasing and polite personality, faces a daunting challenge in the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I’m looking at tape, I’ll be talking to the other pitchers and catchers and go over the game plan and I’ll watch Saturday’s game very closely,” he said.
He throws four pitches — fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. His changeup has improved immensely recently and he says, “I am able to get it into the zone and I’m getting some swings on it.”
MELVILLE HAD A few down moments during spring training that produced ugly numbers, but manager Bryan Price liked what he saw.
“He really learned over the course of the six weeks in spring training how to utilize his stuff,” said Price. “He didn’t use his curveball much earlier in his career and didn’t have a defined changeup. It was always a pitch in the works. Now he has both the change and the curve and he utilizes them to go with a 94 miles an hour fastball and a nice slider. Now he is a four-pitch pitcher.”
And here is his game plan — a nice plan that all pitchers try to follow but a little more difficult when you are a rookie making your major league debut against an excellent team.
“I need to get ahead early, throw strikes, try to get hitters out by forcing contact in three pitches or less,” he said. “I need to keep my pitch count low and let my defense help out.”
THERE IS NO QUESTION Zack Cozart’s defensive abilities are above and beyond and he has begun the season with a bat that he uses for something other than to lean on.
But he went above, and beyond, even for him, on a play Friday night against the Pirates.
In the fifth inning, Starling Marte was on second when Josh Harrison hit one hard off third baseman Eugenio Suarez’s glove. Marte ran to third as the ball bounced to shortstop Cozart. Suarez’s momentum carried him far off the third base bag so Marte make a big turn around third. Cozart spotted him and sprinted about 30 feet to the bag and tagged him out.
“He is a really smart player, something we knew even before he made that great play,” said Price. “He takes a lot of pride in his defense and knows shortstop is a defense-first position. But he is so excited to be back on the field after missing half of last season (after knee surgery).
“We’re seeing a guy who really loves to play and it is nice that he has gotten off to a nice start at the plate because there have been times when he has gotten off to slow starts,” Price added.
BILLY HAMILTON, still batting at the bottom of the order, is hitting only .125 but slapped an opposite-field single during a rally Friday and has drawn a couple of walks so far this season.
“With young players, strike-zone command is so important,” said Price. “You can only walk if they throw four balls and you take ‘em all. You have to be confident of your strike zone and to be able to hit the ball hard when you are strike one or strike two.
“As Billy gets more confident in feeling he doesn’t have to get the ball in play early in the count, that he can go deep in the count, his walks will increase,” Price added. “He has a good eye. But the key for him is when he gets a good pitch to hit he has to hit a line drive or a hard ground ball and not so many balls in the air. And he has to lay off some of those pitcher’s pitches. He has to define the pitches that he doesn’t hit well and lay off them.”
PRICE WAS CRITICIZED heavily last season for not using closer Aroldis Chapman for more than the ninth inning. On Friday night he brought closer J.J. Hoover into the game in the eighth inning and his second pitch was whacked for a grand slam home run by Starling Marte.
When asked Saturday if he planned to use Hoover in more than the ninth inning this year, Price said Friday’s situation was somewhat of an anomaly because Marte was 1 for 14 with eight strikeouts against Hoover.
“I’d rather there not be a lot of ambiguity with our bullpen,” said Price, meaning he prefers defined roles, when possible. “J.J. is the most prepared out of our group of relief pitchers to close at this time. He has earned that right with the performance he has had last year and in 2012 and 2013.
“I don’t want to be compelled right now to see who else can do that job,” Price added. “I’d like to get to the point where we can get through the eighth without covering that inning with our closer. I really would prefer not to do that.”
AS SOME OF YOU may know, I’ve started my own web-site, halmccoy.com. The content is different from what appears here, so check it out. It is free, but to keep it going I need gas money for my driver, Ray Snedegar. There is a Go Fund Me icon on the home page where fans who want to keep me going to Reds games can contribute.