Hanigan powers Reds past Brewers for sweep
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds caught fire in the opening series of 2011, and "caught" is the operative word.
Catchers were the center attraction for the Reds, who completed a three-game sweep Sunday by annihilating the Milwaukee Brewers 12-3.
It was the RH Factor — catcher Ramon Hernandez on Opening Day and catcher Ryan Hanigan on Sunday.
Hernandez completed a four-hit day on Opening Day with a stunning, game-ending three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth for a 7-6 victory.
Hanigan matched Hernandez's four hits on Sunday. But instead of one home run, he hit two. The two catchers did startling imitations of Johnny Bench on his best days.
Manager Dusty Baker is continuing his share-the-shin guards plan this season, platooning his two productive catchers who combined last season to hit .298 (516 combined at bats, 154 hits) with 12 homers and 88 RBI.
Asked why he benched Hernandez in Game 2 after his four hits and game-winning home run in favor of Hanigan on Saturday and Sunday, Baker said: "We kind of covered all this last year, didn't we? We were successful with how we did it (with Hernandez and Hanigan in a platoon) last year. I don't like either one of them sitting out too long."
Said Hanigan after the first two-homer day of his career, "I want to be a dangerous guy." Well, the Brewers probably have his picture plastered all over downtown Milwaukee with a warning, "Armed and dangerous."
Hanigan has become dangerous with diligent experimentation and changes over the past couple of years.
"I've worked on it a lot, working with Jake (batting coach Brook Jacoby)," he said. "I've figured out what works for me, changed some things and it has definitely come around for me. I'm looking to do some damage if I get a pitch I can handle."
Bakers loves his catching combo.
"That's a pretty good tandem we have going on between he and Ramon," he said. "They were the second most productive catching combination in the league last year and now they are trying to get most productive and that's fine with us and definitely fine with me.
"They work together, pull for each other and there is no envy or jealousy between them. And we get a chance to keep ‘em both strong and fresh."
The game Sunday was 2-2 until the fourth inning, when the Reds scored four times, highlighted by a three-run home run by Brandon Phillips. And the Reds scored four more in the sixth when Hanigan popped his second home run.
There was a strong wind swirling in the stadium, and Phillips said with a laugh, "For Hanigan to hit two home runs, the wind had to be doing something."
Phillips' home run turned the game into deep destruction as the Reds ripped 19 hits against the team that is supposed to be their No. 1 challenger in the National League Central.
"The way we played the Brewers was very impressive," Phillips said. "When we swing the bats the way we're swinging them now, it is very entertaining."
But it isn't something the Brewers hope to see on "Entertainment Tonight."
"When we're on, we're on and it's like fireworks out there," Phillips added.
The three-game sweep's incubation didn't start on Opening Day until the ninth inning, when the Reds trailed, 6-3.
"It was our weekend, a catcher's weekend," Hanigan said. "Absolutely. It all started with Ramon's hit (the three-run game-winning home run in the ninth on Opening Day)."
When a team wins 12-3, it is difficult to talk much about pitching, but Bronson Arroyo is worthy. He spent most of the spring battling mononucleosis, but his weakened body lasted seven innings Sunday as he gave up three runs and six hits with no walks and six strikeouts.
"He is still coughing and sits down in the tunnel. Nobody sits by him," Baker said with a laugh. "He is still a bit under weather, but he is getting stronger. That's Bronson. He loves to compete, loves to play. We got him some runs to work with and he gave us all he had. That's not shocking. You know Bronson. That's the way he is."
Arroyo usually pitches at 193 pounds but reported to camp at 185.
"A little thinner than I've been in the last six or seven years," he said. "I was starting to get to the point where I thought I could gain some weight and get strong when I got sick. I felt a little weak, and I feel a little skinny right now and I need a couple of pounds and some strength.
"But my guys came to play today and I couldn't ask for a better opening outing for myself — keeping it at a tie until Hanigan pops one out of the park and kind of breaks it open."