CINCINNATI — For one day, at least, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker can say that four major questionable components of his team are solvent.
ONE: Can Todd Frazier replace Scott Rolen at third base with no noticeable dissipation of offense and defense?
TWO: Can Shin-Soo Choo play center field and provide the team with the leadoff hitter they’ve tried to find for a decade?
THREE: Can outfielder Chris Heisey step in as a three-month replacement in left field for injured Ryan Ludwick?
FOUR: Aroldis Chapman, starter or closer?
If Thursday afternoon’s 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is an illustration, then the picture is perfect.
Frazier? He homered, doubled, drove in a run and scored a run and mimicked Rolen’s Gold Glove in the third inning with a fantastic stop and throw on Mike Trout.
Choo? He hit the game’s first pitch over the left field wall, singled and scored two runs. And he made a perfect peg home trying to cut off a run but was denied the assist when catcher Ryan Hanigan could apply the tag.
Heisey? He cracked a two-run home run in the fifth inning to give the Reds a two-run lead, 5-3.
Heisey’s homer came a few hours after he was struck in the eye by a thrown ball as he slid into second base. He never left the game and Baker said, “Tough kid. He can take a punch.”
And he can give them, too.
Chapman? Appearing as the closer, Chapman made his third stroll in from the bullpen in three days and now has a win and a save.
He saved Thursday’s game after giving up a leadoff single in the ninth to Mike Trout. Erick Aybar bunted Trout to second and manager Dusty Baker elected to pitch to Albert Pujols with first base open. He lined to right. Then Chapman ended it by striking out Josh Hamilton.
Frazier played nearly 50 games at first base last year as a stand-in for injured Joey Votto and now holds permanent possession of third base.
“It feels good to understand the comfort that I have about third base, that I belong there, that I worked my tail off to be there,” said Frazier. “No better feeling than when you get that opportunity.”
As for replacing Rolen, Frazier said, “It was like last year trying to play first base for Votto. I understand and I can’t be him (Votto), and I can’t be Scotty. Do I want eight Gold Gloves? Sure. But Scotty is just one of those phenomenal athletes. You look up to him but you don’t try to be him because if you do you can’t be the person you need to be.”
Choo is not only a man on a mission, he knows his mission and grasps it. The home run was nice, but getting on base is what he is all about, what he was brought in to do.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said. “I’m trying every time to just get on base. We have such a good lineup, second through eight. So my focus this year on this team is more on getting on base, not just hits.”
And he doesn’t care how?
“Walks, hit by pitch, any way I can,” he said. In the first three games Choo already has been hit twice and he said, “I always have a lot of hit by pitch, more than 10 every year. No problem. That’s OK.”
The showings of Frazier, Choo and Heisey were a necessity because despite one hit each in three games by Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, the Reds won two of three.
“That means somebody picked us up,” said manager Dusty Baker. “We’re fortunate to win two out of three.”