Reds riding defense to the top of the league
When the Cincinnati Reds make an error, there is shock on the field, shock in the dugout and shock in the grandstands. Nostradamus must be right – the world is coming to an end. The Reds just don’t make errors. Nearly never. There are two concrete reasons, written in cement, why the Reds currently reside atop the National League Central standings. And offense is not one of them. The Reds are ninth in the 15-team National League in hitting with a .251 batting average. And Joey Votto is on the disabled list so if his average is subtracted during his absence the team average dips to .242, 13th in the league. The Great Equalizer is pitching and defense and aficionados always talk about how import pitching his. Defense? Ho-hum. But it is no ho-hum for the Reds. It is oh yeah. The Reds lead the National League in defense with a .987 fielding percentage and they’ve made only 51 errors. The next fewest have been perpetrated by the Arizona Diamondbacks with 53. There is nobody who states the case for the defense with more clarity than manager Dusty Baker. “Offense is easy to practice,” he said. “It’s fun. Everybody loves to hit. But defense is hard work. It takes hard work to play good defense. That’s why we work so hard on it. Games are lost by poor defense. And games are won with good defense, something we stress.” When Bronson Arroyo is the starting pitcher and when Scott Rolen is at third base, the Reds have five Gold Glovers on the field at the same time — Arroyo, Rolen, first baseman Joey Votto, second baseman Brandon Phillips and right fielder Jay Bruce. And world class sprinter Drew Stubbs is on the cusp of being recognized as at least a guy silver guy on the brink of gold. Phillips makes highlight plays nearly every game with behind-the-back throws, through-the-legs throws and makes more dives than Greg Louganis — except Phillips catches a baseball at the end of his dives. He is on TV for his acrobatic plays more often than Conan O’Brien. “To tell the truth, I’d rather make a great defensive play than get hits,” said Phillips, who has made only two errors this season. “Defense too often is overlooked and that’s how you can win a lot of games.” Former shorstop/manager and current scout Jim Fregosi once said, “When you are 37 there is no such thing as a routine play.” Apparently Scott Rolen, whose glove is gold-flecked, didn’t get the e-mail because he remains one of the best fielding third basemen in baseball. When Votto signed his first contract he signed as a catcher and the Reds quickly converted him to first base and his learning curve was rainbow-sized. He was not good. But he worked and worked and worked on the nuances of playing first base, “I worked harder the past few years on my defense than on my hitting,” he said, and in 2011 he won his first Gold Glove. Bruce’s arm from right fielder is as dealy as a torpedo — fast-moving throws with bullseye accuracy. Runneres have quit testing him going from first to third and they even hesitate going from second to home. Shortstop Zack Cozart, a rookie, makes all the plays, up the middle and in the hole, and makes accurate throws from body-twisting ankles. He has made the most errors on the team, eight, but it’s a position that draws a lot of errors. The catching tandem of veteran Ryan Hanigan and rookie Devin Mesoraco has made only four errors. Both have bullet train arms. Hanigan has thrown out 17 runners against 28 steals while Mesoraco has thrown out 11 against 30 thefts. Even the pitchers are defensive-minded. The staff has made only five errors and the bullpen has committed only one, a wild pickoff attempt by Aroldis Chapman. With Votto and his potent bat residing on the DL, the offense is less scary to the opposition, but the opposition knows the defense remains a dike with no holes and the Reds were 9-1 for the first ten games Votto missed. And so the defense rests on the debate, but the Reds defense never rests.