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Cerebral managers: Paying attention to details

CINCINNATI — The National League Central is probably the best division in baseball and probably leads the majors in cerebral managers — from Chicago’s Joe Maddon to Cincinnati’s Bryan Price to Pittsburgh’s Clint Hurdle.

Paying attention to details, no matter how minute, is the mark of a cerebral manager and something Hurdle has his outfielders do when they arrive at a visiting ballpark is what Hurdle did as a player — and he spent a brief time with the Reds.

“I always ask our outfielders to measure off the depth of the warning tracks as soon as we get on that field,” said Hurdle. “When I played, I got on the warning track to find out how much distance I had from the front of the track to the wall. Because not all warning tracks are the same. So I knew at each park when I hit the warning track that I had 1 1/2 gaits or two gaits or three gaits to the wall. We’ve asked our players during batting practice to go out there and get a feel for it.”

AND HERE IS ANOTHER indication. The Pirates were seeing Reds starting Tim Melville for the first time Sunday and it was mentioned that Melville’s minor league numbers show that he walks four batters for every nine innings he pitches.

“We’re all over it,” Hurdle said. “We have that information. We will have our meetings with the hitters and that stuff will be mention in the batting cages today.”

In other words, Pirates hitters were told to force Melville to throw a lot of pitches and make certain he throws strikes.

AND HOW ABOUT this one? Don’t outfielders play different depths depending upon the distances to the fences because some ball parks are bigger than others?

“That’s a misnomer,” said Hurdle. “You basically play the same depths based on our charts. It is all predicated on the diamond, based on the middle off the pitcher’s mound circle. You have foul lines and outfield depths, regardless of what is behind you. We maintain consistency on our depths for our outfielders.”

ONE OF THE SURPRISES of the early season for the Reds has been the bullpen work, especially that of Blake Wood. The Reds signed him to a Major League contract after he pitched all last season at Class AAA Indianapolis (Pirates).

Wood pitched as if he were standing in a forest of trees early in spring training, pretty much a four-car pileup. But a couple of good late-spring appearances saved him.

“His pitch quality has been better,” said manager Bryan Price. “Because he got off to a slow start in spring training he probably started to press to impress to make the club.

“He had a great year in Indianapolis, saved 29 games, and he comes to us on a Major League contract and I imagine at some point he felt that opportunity slipping away with his poor spring performance.”

THE FACT THAT Louisville manager Delino DeShields saw Wood pitching against the Bats last year helped out the 30-year-old right hander from Georgia.

“What made a big difference for me since I hadn’t seen a lot of Blake before was that DeShields came up to me and said, ‘This guy was really good in Triple-A. You are not seeing the guy who was in Indianapolis last year. He is better than what you’re seeing.’

“A lot of people in the organization felt that based on what he had done last year he earned the opportunity to cement a spot in the bullpen,” Price added. “His early spring training appearances probably put pressure on him so he thought, ‘Man, I’m not going to make this club,’ didn’t make an easy environment for him.”

REDS GENERAL MANAGER Walt Jockey may have made the steal of the century when he acquired Eugenio Suarez for pitcher Alfredo Simon. And now that Simon is back with Cincinnati, the Reds basically got Suarez for nothing.

And what a find. He has moved from shortstop to third base and he hit three home runs in his first five games.

“Remember after we started playing him at shortstop last year when he had a series of games where he was throwing a lot balls away?” said Price. “I knew that beat him up a lot because he is a sure-handed guy with an accurate throwing arm. He got through that and that showed me he was mentally tough. He hit, but that period on defense was the biggest challenge he had last year and he worked through it.

“Seeing him transition to third base (from shortstop) this spring so comfortably gave me the confidence that he has it, he has the ‘it’ factor — the ability to change positions and play it flawlessly and his hitting is just getting better and better.”

EARLIER IN THE week I wrote that the Reds pitching rotation had a literal flair with Robert Stephenson (the pitcher, not the poet) and Tim Melville (the pitcher, not the author of Moby Dick).

A reader added to it by suggesting, “Well, how about The Odyssey by Homer (Homer Bailey) and Finnigan’s Wake (Brandon Finnegan). Those were good, but his suggestion of Simple Simon (Alfredo Simon) and Mary Had a Little Lamb (John Lamb) were stretches.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “There is no such thing as an old fool because you don’t get to be old by being a fool.” — Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, talking to an old writer (me).”

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