Reds try to figure 9-game course of action
CINCINNATI -- The first goal is under glass now, the National League Central championship for the Cincinnati Reds.
And with nine games left in the season, the questions are, "Where to and what now?" What is there to maintain the interest for two weeks before the playoffs commence?
It would be easy for the team to relax, lick its wounds from the long, long season and to spend the time to recuperate and regenerate.
There is, though, one problem. After Sunday night's 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Reds have nine games remaining, three each with Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. All three teams are still within grasps of a wild card invitation.
So wouldn't it behoove the Reds to put their best feet on the field, do their best to win each game as a matter of maintaining baseball's integrity?
And then there is the matter of the seeding for the postseason. The Reds and the Washington Nationals are chest-to-chest for the best record in the National League, so shouldn't the Reds try to beat out the Nationals?
The team with the best record, the No. 1 seed, gets to play the survivor of the one-game wild card play-in game. The No. 2 seed would play the ever-dangerous, pitcher-loaded San Francisco Giants.
It's a slippery slope, one that for now is being climbed by acting manager Chris Speier, running the clubhouse and the dugout while manager Dusty Baker recovers from a few days of testing and medications from a irregular heart beat.
When Baker will return to the manager's chair is unknow and his doctors and the Reds are being cautious to the extreme because health trumps baseball triumphs.
Baker left Northwestern Hospital in Chicago Sunday morning and met with the team after batting practice Sunday night, but did not put on his uniform. He watched the game from a private box in civilian clothes.
After Sunday's game, Speier is 7-2 for the nine games he has managed during Baker's absences.
As he readied himself to meet the media before Sunday's game, Speier had to put down a full plate of broccoli-and-cheese, a strange pre-game snack.
Speier, ever the good soldier and tight friends with Baker, was hoping Baker could return to duty Tuesday night against Milwaukee after the Reds have a day off Monday.
"We'll see that hopefully with the day off tomorrow and him getting a real relaxing day at home tonight he'll be able to come back Tuesday. We'll see how he feels," said Speier.
Now that the Reds have clinched the National League Central, thoughts turn to resting some of the regulars to revive them for the playoffs. But the Reds finish their schedule against the Dodgers, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, all still in the wild card playoff snapshot. So it behooves the Reds to do their best to win every game.
"That won't be too difficult with our personnel because we put a competitive team out there every day," said Speier. "But we are going to take care of ourselves and make sure the people that need a day or two to get their injuries under wrap, we'll have to take that opportunity. But it won't be hard."
Joey Votty, Drew Stubbs, Ryan Hanigan and Homer Bailey were the regulars in Sunday's lineup, along with semi-regular Todd Frazier. Ryan Ludwick remained out of play while nursing his tender groin.
"We need to give Ludwick time to get that groin healed and Scott Rolen needs a couple of extra days," said Speier. "He was in tonight's lineup, but now we have a chance to give him two days off."
The other questeion involves the starting pitchers, none of which has missed a start all year. Will anybody be rested or will anybody's starts be shortened to preserve innings?
"I haven't spoken with pitching coach Bryan Price or Dusty Baker beause that is their domain," said Speier. "I'll sit down with Bryan later today and see what he wants to do with Homer Bailey (Sunday's starter), but I don't see any reason to hold back."
And he wasn't held back. He pitched 6 2/3 innings before his night unraveled in the seventh inning.
He gave up a second-inning home run to Adrian Gonzalez and had a 1-1 tie entering the seventh. Then he gave up a second home run to Gonzalez to make it 2-1 and was eventually charred with three more during a four-run inning.
After missing 12 days, closer Aroldis Chapman pitched the ninth inning Saturday, coming in with the team ahead, 6-0.
"I thought Chapman looked good, I did," said Speier "I was happy that when he was off the strike zone, he was done. That's a good sign that he is getting out in front and staying on top of the ball.
"It was a good position for him to have a soft landing, just to get that inning in," Speier said. Mat Latos began the game and threw eight shutout innings and led, 3-0. Speier said he planned to send Latos back out for the ninth, but when the Reds scored three in the eighth for a six-run lead, it was perfect to slip Chapman into the game for his comeback.
"We're going to ease him back into the closer's role, maybe another time or two (without save situations)," said Speier. "Latos was pitching so well I was going to let him finish, but when we added the runs I felt that was a great opportunity to get back in with a soft landing. He needs to pitch.
"I didn't see any upside for Mat to go back. I mean, if he got hurt or did something crazy I would have had to live with that and didn't want to take that chance," Speier added. "It was big for us to get Chapman back out there as soon as we could to see what we have."