Reds return intact looking for deep playoff run
Same starting five in the rotation. Same back end of the
bullpen. Same starting lineup, except for one spot.
On the surface, not much has changed with the Cincinnati Reds,
and that’s exactly how they wanted it. The NL Central division
champions have brought their team back virtually intact for another
run at their elusive goal.
Another division title is only an initial goal for a team that
won 97 games last season. They’re looking way beyond that first
Instead, they’ve got their eye on late October.
”I want to get to the next round of the playoffs,” second
baseman Brandon Phillips said. ”I want to start there. Of course
the goal every year is to win the ring, but I feel like you’ve got
to take steps.”
The Reds have taken huge steps in the last five years,
reconfiguring themselves from perennial also-ran to consistent
playoff contender. They went nine years without so much as a
winning record, and 15 years between playoff appearances before
winning the division as an up-and-coming team in 2010.
They got swept in the playoffs by the Phillies that season, then
slipped the following year under a lot of injuries. They were back
on top last season with a team built for long-term success, but
fell in the first round of the playoffs again, this time to the
Giants in five games.
Everything about the offseason has gone into giving them a
better chance to not only reach the playoffs, but to keep
”We’re a team that’s built for now,” general manager Walk
Jocketty said. ”We’re built to win now.”
They think some modest lineup tweaking could make them a bit
One of their biggest weaknesses for years has been the lack of a
leadoff hitter, which forced manager Dusty Baker to use Phillips
and others in the top spot. They got Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians
to replace Drew Stubbs, who struck out too much to be effective.
Choo could be a short-term fix, with Billy Hamilton – who set a
minor league record with 155 steals last season – playing center
field and batting leadoff for Triple-A Louisville this season.
The other change is at third base, where Todd Frazier gets the
job full-time for Scott Rolen, who decided not to return for
another season. Frazier filled in at third base and at first base
when Rolen and Joey Votto were hurt, and ended up third in NL
Rookie of the Year voting after batting .273 with 19 homers and 67
Cincinnati thinks the offense will be even better with a healthy
Votto around from the start of the season. The former NL MVP tore
cartilage in his left knee while sliding into base on June 29 and
needed two operations. Votto was gone for 48 games and wasn’t
himself when he returned, reduced to hitting singles the rest of
the season because of the weak knee.
During spring training, he hit his first homers since June 24,
an indication his knee is fully healed.
Votto’s first significant injury has given him a different
”People’s injuries resonate with me more because of my
experience,” he said. ”It probably made me a better
The Reds got through last season with all five starters healthy
and were the only team in the majors that used as few as six
starters – they had to call one up for a doubleheader. The streak
of good luck ended when Johnny Cueto pulled muscles in his side
during the first inning of the opening playoff game in San
Francisco, leaving Cincinnati’s pitching plans in flux for the rest
of the series.
Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake
each made 30 starts last season. Bailey in particular showed
improvement, throwing a no-hitter in Pittsburgh. All are back and
The Reds’ biggest decision in spring training involved the
closer’s spot. The Reds got hard-throwing Aroldis Chapman ready to
make a long-awaited transition to the rotation, with Jonathan
Broxton available to finish off games, but the left-hander
expressed a preference to keep closing.
Chapman had 38 saves after moving into the role in May,
converting a club-record 27 in a row even though he’d never been a
closer. He’ll have a better feel for the role this season.
”I have a lot of years ahead,” Chapman said. ”I’m happy to be
the closer now.”
Baker got a two-year contract extension after missing the Reds’
division championship celebration last year because he was
hospitalized for treatment of an irregular heartbeat and a
mini-stroke. The 63-year-old manager feels fine and shares the big
expectations for this season and beyond.
”I talked to the owners,” Baker said. ”They asked a lot of
questions and made statements. They’re enthusiastic about our
”We’ve come a long way in a short period of time, over three
years. It’s about being able to sustain high excellence.”
And it’s about taking that next step deeper into the
AP freelance writer Gary Schatz in Goodyear, Ariz., contributed
to this report.