GOODYEAR, Ariz. — What you see is what Sean Marshall gives you, and Marshall seldom gives hitters much to see as the main setup guy out of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen.
But if you are a fellow occupant of the Reds bullpen, Marshall is the go-to guy, the guy manager Dusty Baker tells his pitchers to emulate and to explore his brain.
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Baker has told Marshall, “Be a leader,” and Marshall grasps the assignment with the seriousness of a Harvard law professor.
“The young players can learn a lot about Sean’s demeanor,” said Baker. By looking at Marshall’s face while he is on the mound, it is difficult to determine if he has just struck out three straight or given up a three-run home run. His expression doesn’t alter.
“Nothing seems to bother him, which is a must from late-inning relievers,” Baker added. “You have to pretend and not show any source of fear or anxiety late in the game, especially coming into tough situations.”
Baker said if a pitcher displays Fear Factor, hitters grip the bat tighter and whale away.
“Hitters feed off fear,” said Baker. “They sense it, they have a recognition of fear. Barry Bonds fed off it. Albert Pujols feeds off it. And Joey Votto feeds off it. Most of the great ones do. Look how many times they are 0-and-2 and suddenly they are 3-and-2. Happens all the time.
“Marshall is a guy who can show them how to remain calm and in focus and fearless,” said Baker.
Some might say Marshall, with his vast assortment of pitches and his 6-foot-7, 224-pound stature, has no reason for fear, but on a baseball mound size doesn’t matter, unless it is heart. And a big, tough heart is something Marshall owns.
As for being a leader, Marshall is as willing to do that as he is to come into the seventh inning or eighth inning of a tie game to face the heart of the St. Louis batting order or the heart of the San Francisco batting order — any order, whatever Baker orders.
“Dusty hasn’t said anything to me about being a leader, but I can see why he says that in regard to talking to young pitchers,” said Marshall. “I don’t have a lot of time in the big leagues (six years), but I’ve done a lot of different roles, so I have the experience to share what I know from the different situations I’ve been through.
“I’ve started, I’ve relieved, I’ve been a situational lefty and I have some saves. So, I’ve been through the loop as far as pitching situations,” he added. “If I can offer some insight, or suggestions, or help for the young guys I feel as if I can. Some guys come around and pick my brain, mostly about warming up, how to keep your arm ready to pitch on multiple games, stuff they can take and run with.”
Marshall was part of a shut-it-down bullpen the last half of last season — Marshall in the seventh, Jonathan Broxton in the eighth and Aroldis Chapman in the ninth. It wasn’t quite The Nasty Boys of 1990 — Norm Charlton, Randy Myers and Rob Dibble — but it was close enough.
The Reds, though, are breaking up that old gang, trying to slip Chapman into the rotation, which would push Marshall back into the eighth-inning set-up role and Broxton into the closer’s role, something he has done most of his career.
Marshall believes that no matter which way the Reds go with Chapman, the bullpen is in talented and capable hands, left handed or right handed.
“No matter if Chapman is in the rotation or in the bullpen, he will be a great help to us again,” said the 30-year-old native of Richmond Va. “Broxton has had a lot of closer experience (111 careers saves) and he has all the credentials in the world.
“We have other guys, proven guys,” said Marshall. “Sam LeCure was great last year in doing several roles, Logan Ondrusek was great despite a tough spell which is part of the learning curve, J.J. Hoover has a great arm and is learning how to pitch, both Jose Arredondo and Alfredo Simon are very good, so we have plenty of guys who can get hitters out.
“So, if we do lose Chapman out of the bullpen, we have plenty of good arms to fill the void and keep the bullpen strong,” he said.
Marshall’s contribution last year was a 5-5 record with a 2.51 earned run average and nine early-season saves (before Chapman took over the closer’s role) over 73 appearances.
Even though Marshall has pitched only one inning this spring and his second appearance won’t be until Friday, Marshall senses that the Reds are ready, willing and able to pursue a third National League Central title in four years.
“If the season started next week, we’d be ready, but we have another month down here,” he said. “And we’ll see how it plays out.”
And Marshall is ready to lead the way, be it on the mound or counseling young pitchers asking for help.