Price optimistic Reds lineup improved

The Reds are hoping the return of Joey Votto and Jay Bruce will provide a spark to the lineup.

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CINCINNATI — Bryan Price is a pretty honest guy. If the Reds manager doesn’t want to give you a direct answer to a question, he’ll tell you so.

Such was the case Sunday as the Reds closed out their annual caravan with a Select-a-Seat event at Great American Ball Park. Fans came to GABP to buy season tickets and get a chance to have a Q&A session with players, coaches and team personalities and executives who had been a part of the four-day regional tour that covered five states and 3,300 miles.

The question about what Price’s vision for the Reds lineup came his way.

"On this caravan I’ve had the good fortune to be able to practice how many ways I can work around answering this question," said Price, drawing laughter from the crowd gathered.

It’s nearing the end of January. It is less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, Ariz., for the start of spring training on Feb. 18. The first full-squad workout is scheduled for six days later.

But it’s never too early to talk about lineups.

Okay, maybe it is but admit it, there’s a perverse fun and delight in debating a baseball lineup. No one is ever right but that doesn’t stop the conversation.

The daily lineup is a fluid thing and, as last season proved, you can dream what you think is your "ideal" lineup all you want, analyzing all the ins-and-outs of each player and how they best fit into your desired scheme but ideal rarely exists.

The Reds came out of spring training last season with a projected lineup of: Devin Mesoraco at catcher, Joey Votto playing first base, Brandon Phillips at second, Todd Frazier at third, and Zack Cozart at shortstop in the infield. The outfield was going to be Ryan Ludwick in left field, Billy Hamilton playing every day in center field in his first full major league season and Jay Bruce in right field.

Those projected eight players were in the starting lineup just 12 times last season, going 6-6 and averaging 5.75 runs per game, which was more than two runs better than the Reds averaged overall. That projection didn’t even make it to Opening Day as Mesoraco missed the first six games of the season with a strained oblique. The Reds last played a game with that lineup on June 30. They used a total of 130 different lineups in their 162 games, which was middle of the road for teams; it was the seventh-most in the National League and tied for 14th in Major League Baseball.

The lineup projection won’t change dramatically this season. Ludwick is gone after the Reds declined to pick up his playing option for this season, replaced by Marlon Byrd. The Reds acquired Byrd in a trade with Philadelphia for minor league pitcher Ben Lively on New Year’s Eve. Byrd has hit 49 home runs and driven in 173 runs in the last two seasons. The Reds are confident he can continue to produce at a similar level even though he’ll turn 38 in August.

The return to health of Votto and Bruce, who missed a combined 112 games and were affected by their injuries even when playing to the point that they had their worst big league seasons, will be the biggest boost to the Reds this season. Phillips missed another 32 games and he’s another player who’s overall numbers were down from his norm, particularly when it came to driving in runs.

Reports from the Reds medical staff on all three players have been positive. The next step is seeing them show that on the field.

"The acquisition of Marlon Byrd is a stabilizer in left field," said Price. "We’re going to be able to start the year healthy. With Joey healthy, Brandon all the way, Jay Bruce back and Devin started on the DL last year, we’ve got an opportunity to be real strong one through seven offensively, to have someone hitting in the seven-hole that at one time or another in their career drove in 80 runs or more.

"However it shakes out, and I’ve got to be real honest with you I really don’t know because we’ve got to take a look at these guys in spring training and see where Jay’s swing is and how Joey bounces back and see where Marlon fits in before making any real decisions, but it’s going to be a real nice lineup." 

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