Reds walked their way to perfect start
The National League's most potent offense has learned how to score by doing nothing.
The Cincinnati Reds got off to their best start in 21 years by showing patience at the plate. Reds batters walked 18 times during their 4-0 start, leaving them among the league leaders in that category.
It's a notable change.
Last season, the Reds overpowered teams with an offense that led the league in batting average, homers and slugging percentage. They ranked only 10th in walks, preferring to take their bases several at a time.
That reputation may be part of the change. Pitchers are being careful with the defending NL Central champs so far.
''When people know you can hit, most of the time they're not just going to come at you,'' manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday, before a game against Houston. ''It's up to you.''
Jonny Gomes is the best example of the turnaround. Last season, the free-swinging outfielder walked only 39 times. After four games, he leads the league with seven walks. During an 8-2 win over the Astros on Tuesday night, Gomes drew a pair of walks with the bases loaded, laying off close pitches.
''If you taught every kid to hit in the big leagues, I think all you'd have to say is swing at strikes and take balls and you'll be successful,'' Gomes said. ''That's what we're doing. I don't think it's any more than that. And we could go the other way: When we're slumping, what's going on? Well, swinging at balls and taking strikes.
''Basically, it's that simple.''
Simple in theory, not so easy in practice. Look at the Astros.
Houston batted only .215 and drew only five walks while dropping its first four games against Philadelphia and Cincinnati. Astros starter J.A. Happ walked five in the first two innings on Tuesday night, matching his offense's total for the entire season.
No surprise that the Astros were the NL's only winless team four games in.
Manager Brad Mills lamented his lineup's lack of good at-bats in the series opener, when Houston managed only five hits.
''We put a lot of weight on quality at-bats, and with quality at-bats, you're going to get more walks,'' Mills said.
By contrast, the Reds drew 18 walks - none intentional - while scoring 7, 4, 12 and 8 runs in their first four games. They're batting .338 with eight homers in those four games. National League MVP Joey Votto is second on the team with four walks.
Eight different Reds have drawn a walk, an indication it's more than Gomes and Votto. Eleven players are batting .333 or better.
''I think we're pretty stacked,'' Gomes said. ''We've got dangerous hitters one through eight, so taking your walks is fine. We've seen that. I don't think we're relying on the middle of our lineup. Just take your walks, we can do damage one through eight.''
Being selective early in the count has forced opposing starters to throw a lot of pitches and work themselves into a corner. Three of the first four opposing starters failed to last five innings because of high pitch counts.
''You get walks by not swinging at pitches out of the zone,'' Baker said. ''It's like fishing and throwing some bait out there.
''It's hard to catch the big bass if you don't have the proper bait presentation. Those are the guys who hit .300. It's easy to catch the little fish because the first batch of bait you throw out there, they bite on it.''