PHOENIX — An obvious sense of pride is present in Bronson Arroyo’s voice when he talks about his former Cincinnati Reds teammates, players he watched bloom as big leaguers and find their way from rookies in embarrassing costumes to established stars.
"I’ve dressed all these guys up," Arroyo said Thursday. "I’ve handpicked outfits for them, put them in diapers, you know."
Rookie hazing aside, Arroyo formed strong bonds as teammates and friends during eight seasons in Cincinnati and because of that he knows his start against them Friday won’t be just another outing.
"It’s going to be funny, man," Arroyo said. "I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep a straight face out on the mound, to be honest with you. Because it’s not like it’s a team I played with for a short amount of time, and it’s not like it’s a bunch of guys that were really established in the game when I came in. They were all young kids and rookies when I came up.
"It’s a very weird situation to pitch against an entire lineup of guys that you feel that kind of kinship with."
Arroyo spent most of his time before Thursday’s game hanging out in front of the Reds dugout talking to old teammates, executives and staffers. He even hung around well after the D-backs had cleared the field for the Reds to take batting practice. If there were any hard feelings when the Reds decided not to bring Arroyo back after last season, they’ve clearly dissipated.
While Arroyo has never faced former teammates in the regular season, he faced a similar situation after the Red Sox traded him in 2006. That trade came late in spring training, and Arroyo faced the Red Sox about a week later, when the Reds still trained in Florida.
"That was very weird, but since then I haven’t had this feeling of pitching against people I was so close with," Arroyo said.
Arroyo’s closest relationships in Cincinnati were with now-departed catcher Ryan Hanigan and starting pitcher Mike Leake — his counterpart Friday — followed closely by fellow starters Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos. He also formed close bonds with the Reds core of Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce that emerged under his watch as one of the team’s veterans.
But there’s probably no one in the Cincinnati dugout who knows Arroyo as well as Bryan Price, the former Reds (and D-backs) pitching coach who took over this season as manager.
"He was my pitching coach for three years, and I probably confided in him as much as anybody I’ve ever been with in the game as far as my pitching style," Arroyo said. "He knows me inside and out."
Price spoke glowingly of Arroyo before Thursday’s series opener, though he’ll do all he can Friday to give his hitters an edge.
"One of the really truly great people and competitors," Price said. "Bronson has been one of the better competitors I’ve ever had on a pitching staff. It will be great to see him. Obviously we are going to come in and attack and try to get a victory. Once we leave, I will wish him nothing but the best."
As well as the Reds might know Arroyo, even despite the tendency for pitchers and positions players on the same team to not divulge much to each other baseball wise, he comes armed with a similar set of information.
"I know those guys inside and out as well — on and off the field," Arroyo said. "I know what these guys like to drink, I know what they do at night, I know if they play Xbox or if they go out to bars — I know everything about them. It’s going to be strange because it’s going to be this chess match of playing against someone who has a lot of information about you and you of them, so it’s going to be very interesting to see how it shakes out."
Leake might be able to offer his Reds teammates a better perspective on Arroyo than anyone aside from Price, who said Arroyo had a greater impact on Leake than he did any other young Reds pitcher.
Of course, Arroyo could offer up similar insight on Leake to the D-backs, including his fellow starters. As a pitcher who’s thrown behind the Reds’ lineup plenty of times, he knows well what to expect.
"There’s not a lot of continuity and consistency in the production you get from that lineup," Arroyo said. "You get 10 runs one night and you get none for three and then you get 13. So it could be a great night for me or it could be a horrible night."