CINCINNATI — There is one member of the Cincinnati Reds who pays close attention to what Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta does — and it isn’t somebody like Joey Votto, who has to hit against Arrieta.
In the off-season, pitchers like to have what they call, ‘Throw Buddies,’ other pitchers with whom they can work out together and play catch together, even if the ‘Throw Buddy’ is on the other team. If they live in the same area, the gravitate together.
Arrieta, who is now 6-0 with a microscopic 0.84 ERA for the Chicago Cubs, has a ‘Throw Buddy.’ It is Reds pitcher Homer Bailey.
“We’ve worked out and play catch in the offseason nearly every morning for the last five years,” said Bailey. “The only time we didn’t was before 2015 when I had a flexor mass problem and he went out and won the Cy Young (22-6, 1.77). I asked him if he was certain he wanted to play catch with me last winter.”
WHY WOULDN’TE HE? He did and he is 6-and-0 now after working out with Bailey this winter and is the front-runner toward winning a second straight Cy Young.
Arrieta began his career with the Baltimore Orioles and he was 19-23 with a 4.78 ERA in three years and 58 starts. “They messed with him,” said Bailey. “They wanted him to do this and do that. They wanted him to change everything.”
In mid-July of 2013 the Orioles gave up on him and traded Arrieta and Pedro Strop to the Chicago Cubs for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman. “Can you imagine?” said Bailey. “The Cubs got Arrieta AND Strop. That has to be one of the best trades of all time.”
AND JUST THINK about it. When Arrieta and Bailey play catch in the offseason there are four no-hitters involved — two by Bailey and two by Arrieta. Bailey performed his two first and was asked playfully, “Did you teach Arrieta how to throw no-hitters?” Said Bailey with a laugh, “With his stuff nobody has to teach him anything. What turned his career around was the Cubs giving him the ball and telling him, ‘Just go get people out and do it your way.’”
Here is another one most people don’t know: When the Reds draft Bailey in the first round out of high school in 2004, the Reds also drafted Arrieta — in the 31st round. While Bailey signed, Arrieta attended Texas Christian University before Baltimore drafted him and he signed in 2007.
AND SPEAKING OF pitching, how about this one? When spring training began the Grand Plan for the Reds pitching rotation was: Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, Brandon Finnegan, Michael Lorenzen and Jon Moscot. Homer Bailey was expected back from Tommy John surgery in mid-May.
Just one month into the season and let’s check out that rotation. Well, there’s Finnegan. But where are the others? The other four are all hurt and Bailey had a setback that could push him back to June before he trudges to the mound.
The rotation, as of this moment (and it changes minute-by-minute) is Finnegan, Dan Straily, Alfredo Simon, Tim Adleman and John Lamb. Straily and Simon were late spring training additions, Lamb was hurt and Adleman was far down the depth chart.
MIX IN A POROUS bullpen with the mix-and-match rotation and it adds up to a 10-and-16 record, last place in the National League Central, through absolutely no fault of manager Bryan Price, who is taking uncalled for heat from some quarters.
“Simon and Straily we’re not even considerations when spring training began,” said Price. “Finnegan was in play. But Simon and Straily were no with us. Adleman was in his first big-league camp as an older guy. Lamb was coming off back surgery and we knew he wouldn’t be available to us on Opening Day.
“We certainly didn’t foresee the injury to DeSclafani and it hurt that Disco and Homer Bailey were so close to being activated last week and had setbacks,” Price added. “Both are getting better every day but there is no timetable as to when they can even begin playing catch again.”
What is so disheartening during this process is that the stand-ins lately have been good — Straily, Adleman, Lamb.
“All things considered, those guys have done everything I could have expected Homer or Disco to do with their first times back,” said Price. “What Adleman, Straily and Lamb have done has been a boost and if Bailey and DeSclafani had come back in their first starts and done what those guys have done it would have been a boost.”
UNFORTUNATELY, WHAT Straily, Adleman and Lamb did was quickly torn asunder by the bullpen and their performances haven’t been reflected on their statistical readouts.
—Straily was Wednesday’s starting pitcher after facing the Pirates in Pittsburgh last week. He pitched six innings and gave up two runs and five hits. He lost, 4-1.
—Adleman pitched six-plus innings in Pittsburgh Sunday and gave up two runs and three hits. The bullpen gave up the lead three different times before the Reds won in 11 innings, 6-5.
—Lamb pitched six innings Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants and gave up one run and six hits, turning a 1-1 tie over to the bullpen. The Reds lost, 3-1.
MANAGER BRYAN PRICE subscribes to the possibility that his bullpen is mentally frazzled. For sure, the bullpenners are physically taxed, out of necessity, but when bad things keep happening it puts an andiron on the brain — like setting an all-time Major League record by giving up at least one run in 21 straight games.
“Positive feeds positive and negative feeds negative, for sure,” said Price. “We talk about confidence — what comes first, performance or confidence. The hardest part of this game is the mental challenges and some of the things players go through over the course of a season.
“We’re in a down cycle and these guys are having a difficult time getting on a roll,” Price added. “We have to find the other side, we have to go from the dark side of the moon to the light side of the moon.”