Starters’ playing time increasing as spring training gets serious

Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto watches his sacrifice fly off his bat.  

Ross D. Franklin/AP

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The question posed to Bryan Price in his office Monday afternoon was just as much of a statement of fact as it was an inquiry of the Reds’ manager: "Getting down to the nitty-gritty here?"

It certainly is getting to be that time of spring training camp.

Two weeks to go before the regular season begins means the Reds and the rest of the major league teams are hitting the final stretch of their preparation time in Arizona and Florida. Starting pitchers are increasing the their pitch counts with the idea of being ready to throw 90 or more pitches when games start counting for real, and position players will be playing full games.

Monday night’s lineup against the Texas Rangers in Surprise has seven of the eight position players, plus designated hitter Marlon Byrd, scheduled to play all nine innings. The only exception to that plan is catcher Devin Mesoraco. While it’s not a steadfast guarantee that all of the players will be out there the entire game, it is the first time this spring that is the plan for the majority of the Reds’ starting lineup.

"These guys are going to have to start playing those eight- and nine-inning games three games in a row to get them conditioned for the season," said Price. "We haven’t really done that yet a great deal."

Of the eight position players expected to make up the eventual everyday lineup for the Reds this season, center fielder Billy Hamilton, first baseman Joey Votto and third baseman Todd Frazier will be playing against Texas along with Mesoraco and Byrd. Kristopher Negron is starting at shortstop, Irvin Falu at second base while Chris Dominguez (left field) and Brannen Boesch (right field) will flank Hamilton.

The Reds cut their camp roster to 36 on Monday with multiple moves. The Opening Day roster has to be trimmed to 25.

They started by trading first baseman Neftali Soto to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for cash. They also released left-handed reliever Jose Mijares, who was a non-roster invitee to camp, and sent five players to the minors. Catcher Tucker Barnhart, outfielder Donald Lutz and infielder Eugenio Suarez were sent to Triple-A Louisville, while infielder Josh Satin and catcher Chad Wallach were reassigned to minor league camp.

"It won’t be terribly easy getting to 25 with this group. It was hard enough sending some of these guys out that we just sent to minor league camp," said Price. "They were some pretty difficult decisions and more are awaiting us."

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Price said Suarez and Lutz need to continue playing every day in order to keep developing. Sitting on the bench at the major league level at this point of their careers isn’t going to be beneficial to them or the team. They won’t be far away should they be needed in Cincinnati, which was the case for Lutz last season in three different stints with the Reds.

Because a player isn’t playing in a Cactus League game doesn’t mean he’s got the day off. You’ll find a lot of those players somewhere on the complex taking part in a minor league game.

While Homer Bailey was getting his first start of the season on Sunday against the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, Hamilton was also in the lineup, getting multiple at-bats in a game environment that is much more controlled than a regular game. Hitters can bat out of order, depending on that day’s objectives, and innings can be stopped for pitchers if they get to be too long. Votto was able to get seven at-bats during a minor league game last week before playing in a Cactus League game the next day. Reliever J.J. Hoover pitched in a minor league game on Monday, retiring all three batters he faced.

By this time next week, the everyday eight position players will be playing in the lineup together and for extended action.