CINCINNATI — It was spring training of 2010 and Cincinnati Reds legendary pitcher Mario Soto, now a special assistant to the general manager, was seated on a black leather couch in the middle of clubhouse.
Seated next to Soto was a young kid wearing a Reds uniform. A bat boy? A ball boy?
Soto called a writer over to the couch and said, "I’d like you to meet Daniel Corcino. Remember the name. He is going to be pitching in the big leagues."
It took four more years, but the 23-year-old right handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic is here, occupying a dressing cubicle in the Reds clubhouse and a chair in the Reds bullpen.
Corcino was called up this week from Double-A Pensacola, where he was a starter, but the Reds are going to ease him in, let him dip his toes into creek before tossing him full-body into the major league ocean.
That’s the plan, but managers make plans and the baseball gods laugh at them. Corcino was nearly forced into a big-time situation for his debut on Friday night against the Atlanta Braves.
He was told in the wee hours of Friday morning that he was going to the majors and he spent a sleepless night making arrangements to get to Cincinnati and said, "When you are going to the big leagues, you can’t sleep. Then I flew all day to get here." He arrived at 5 o’clock for the 7 p.m. game, was issued a uniform, and told, "Go to the bullpen and be ready to pitch."
He said he was ready. And when the game went into the 12th inning he was warming up to pitch the 13th. But Justin Upton’s two-run home run in the 12th won the game for the Braves and Corcino still awaits his debut.
"We finished a game in Jacksonville Thursday and got on the team bus and the manager (Delino DeShiels) got on the microphone and said, ‘We have practice at 3 but we won’t get home until about 4 o’clock in the morning. And I want to say congratulations to Danny because he is going to the big leagues.’"
Corcino thought he was hearing voices in the night or maybe he had fallen asleep and was dreaming. He snapped to attention and said, "Are you playing with me, or is that serious?"
DeShield told him he doesn’t play around with that kind of announcement and Corcino said, "I was so excited." It was too late/early when he called his father. No answer. He called back and told him the news, "And he couldn’t even talk. Couldn’t say anything because it was the time we have all been waiting for. Oh my god, I can’t explain how it feels. It so emotional, but you have to try to control everything."
Corcino was signed when Wayne Krivsky was Cincinnati’s general manager, he was quickly put on the fast track. His talent was that big and his arm was even bigger.
He pitched in low Single-A Dayton in 2011 and was 11-7 with a 3.42 earned run average with 156 strikeouts in 139 innings.
He skipped a step the next year, bypassing high Single-A Bakersfield to pitch at Double-A Pensacola and did well enough to get pushed to Triple-A Louisville for 2013. It was too big of a push and Corcino struggled — 7-14 with a 5.86 earned run average.
So for 2014 the Reds moved him back down to Pensacola. Instead of taking it as a kick in the pants Corcino took it as a challenge, an I’ll-show-them attitude. And he did.
"I just forgot about last year," he said. "It was time to work for this year, work every day on my pitches and my mechanics. I never felt disappointment (over his demotion). I always keep my head up. I do my job, take care of my job wherever I am or wherever I go. Stay positive. I am positive every time I go to the mound and learn something every day."
And he doesn’t mind that he is being trained and groomed as a starter but for now the Reds are using him out of the bullpen.
"I pitched in relief last year in winter ball and I like it," he said. "You have to do the job no matter what your role — throw strikes get people out."
Manager Bryan Price says the plan is to keep Corcino as a starter, but for now the bullpen is his spot.
"Sometimes the best way to segueway a kid coming up from Double-A is to get him into a role that brings him into a game that may not be decided, with the score sideways a bit, us being way up or way down," said Price. "Just have him eat up some innings for the bullpen."
That, though, could be a problem — as it nearly was in a tie game in extra innings Thursday. The Reds play mostly close games that aren’t decided until late.
"We’ve played a lot of close games and a lot of extra innings so those opportunities with no margin for error don’t happen often," he said. "But it’s a good role to come into with a kid of his experience. We’ll try to give him a soft landing as best as we can."
At one time Corcino was the team’s fastest moving pitching prospect. He was 11-7 with a 3.42 ERA in 2011 at low-A Dayton. They had him skip high-A Bakersfield and moved him right to Class AA Pensacola in 2012 and then right to Triple-A in 2013, where he stumbled a bit.
"He scuffled last year quite a bit, so we decided to put him back to Pensacola just to get his confidence back and he has had a solid year, better command lately," said Price. "He has had a couple of big leagues camps so he shouldn’t be completely overwhelmed by coming to the big leagues from Double-A. We still like him and we’ll get to see what he is all about."