GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Everything about Bronson Arroyo fools people — mostly some of the 65 and 68 miles an hour curveballs he spins plateward that appear like white water melons to hitters.
That’s until they try to hit them and find themselves lunging at atmosphere.
There is that unorthodox straight-legged wind-up. There is the long flowing hair and flippant remarks to the media that make him seem like a free spirit.
There is much, much more to the 36-year-old right-hander who happens to be the most tenured member of the Cincinnati Reds, his eighth season with the club.
And therein lies another story.
Manager Dusty Baker chuckled to himself when he recounted what happened the first time he saw Arroyo pitch.
It was the year 2000 and Arroyo was a rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Reds manager Dusty Baker was managing the San Francisco Giants.
“I had my doubts that he’d be around for very long when I first saw him,” said Baker, bursting into laughter while realizing Arroyo is in his 11th major-league season.
Baker puts Arroyo in the same class he once put pitcher Kirk Reuter.
“The first game Reuter pitched for Montreal he shut us out in about an hour and 20 minutes,” said Baker. “I didn’t want to take anything away from the kid, so I said, ‘Well, he threw a good game, but let’s see where he is in five or six years.”
Reuter eventually ended up pitching for Baker with the Giants and Baker said, “I forgot all about the statement and he came up to me one day and said, ‘Hey, Bake, remember that kid who shut you out and you wondered where I’d be in five or six years? Well, now I’m playing for you.”
And Baker puts Arroyo in that same category. Not only has Arroyo survived, he is an example of survival of the fittest and he is quick to impart his experiences to young pitchers.
“Arroyo’s experience factor is unbelievable,” said Baker. “He can show you the way. He can show our young pitchers the benefits of hard work, how it pays offs.”
Arroyo has never been on the disabled list and has made 323 starts without once missing his turn in a rotation, quite a feat for a skinny guy who looks as if a gentle breeze might knock him off the pitching rubber.
“He can show our young pitchers how to stay healthy, how to take care of themselves,” said Baker. “Yeah, he has a reputation of being a free spirit, but this guy takes care of himself. He trains hard and never takes time off.”
Arroyo won a Gold Glove two years ago and it is no accidental occurrence because he takes as much pride in the defensive part of his game as he does on his baffling delivery.
“He works on his craft and I tell our guys to use him and Greg Maddux as examples when they do pitchers’ fielding practice (which they do every day the first week of spring training),” said Baker. “I tell them not to be screwing around. They need to make it a game simulation and he does that. He rarely throws a ball away, rarely misses a ball. You don’t get that good defensively just because of innings pitched or wins just by luck.”
Amazingly, as Baker talked about Arroyo, he was visiting the trainers because he was under the weather. They sent him home.
It was two springs ago when Arroyo contracted Valley Fever during spring training, a lingering infection that stayed with him all season. But he never missed a turn.
“But it did affect me,” he said. “I never felt strong all year and was not myself.”
He was 9-12 with a 5.07 ERA in 32 starts after winning 17, 15 and 15 the previous three seasons. He rebounded last year to go 12-10 with a 3.74 ERA.
And, as Baker says, “His leadership and his work ethic that he puts on display is almost as valuable as the 200-plus innings he gives us every year.”