Monday, May 18, 2009

Workmanlike Reds appear resilient

These Reds know their business.

But, let me first preface the forthcoming observation with two points:

One, this is not meant as a criticism of Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. or any former player, or coach for that matter.

Two, while I have extensively covered this team for the past 10 years, I have a limited workload this season which has sent me to the Reds clubhouse only sparingly.

That said, during my first few visits to the home clubhouse at Great American Ball Park, I've been impressed with the professional approach of this young Reds ballclub.

While I enjoyed the pre-game banter, practical jokes and colorful personalities of the past, it is refreshing to watch the '09 edition of Baker's Boys go about their day to day work.

Fewer players hanging out at their lockers, even fewer parked on the leather couches. More getting in their work in the cages, training room, and on the field. Unlike most young teams, they play on an even-keel, to this point avoiding the emotional roller-coaster of a 162-game slate.

The atmosphere in the Reds clubhouse has a similar feel to that of the Cardinals and Braves, perennial winners which I've covered in recent years.

I've been told the Reds' players also get along well off the field, which is important if you believe in the benefits of team "chemistry".

This is a tight-knit team, exactly the kind of ballclub capable of withstanding the inevitable speed bumps of a six-month season, such as this past weekend's three-game sweep in San Diego.

The Reds still need to improve defensively, develop more consistency, and avoid injury.

But, I get a sense from this team. If I'm a Reds fan, I'm still feeling pretty good about this season. And, it's not yet summer.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Cueto: "Hablo un poco en ingles"

Barry Larkin wouldn't stand for this.

The former Reds shortstop, and team captain, was known for being fluent in Spanish.

Larkin would often communicate with Hispanic teammates in their native language and, on occasion, help translate during interviews. But, for Larkin there was a limit.

No. 11 would often refuse requests to translate, particularly for rookies. He was a firm believer that Hispanic ballplayers should put English to practical use, that the only way for them to learn the language was to take the initiative for themselves.

Johnny Cueto needs Barry Larkin.

If the Reds right-hander continues to drop eight scoreless as he did Sunday in a 5-0 victory at PNC Park, he needs to buck up on his English and talk about it. Instead, he uses a translator, often catcher Ramon Hernandez.

Truth is, Cueto knows English, at least enough to form cliches. Still, he refuses to speak for himself.

When a player talks through a translator, you never know what you're getting. Not that the translator is making things up, but the information is being delivered second-hand regardless.

Cueto seems bright and personable. He also is immensely talented. Reds fans, not just reporters, a.k.a. the messengers to the public, deserve to hear and read the words of this pitching stalwart.

Instead, Cueto smiles and nods, while a teammate plays he-said he-said.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Reds rotation revives Baker's Boys

There's a common misconception that good pitching wins games. Not entirely true. Good pitching puts a team in good position to win games.

Deep starting rotations, even those minus a legitimate No. 1 starter, also help clubs avoid lengthy losing streaks.

The Reds have lost two consecutive games three times this season, but never three. They have won all four road series.

The reason? Pitching. Plain and simple.

Within every four-game stretch, someone is going to deliver a quality start.

"They've got a good rotation," today said Pirates manager John Russell, the first opposing skipper in recent memory to utter such an observation of the Redlegs.

Russell's quote came shortly after Johnny Cueto tossed eight scoreless innings in a 5-0 victory Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.

There's a reason the Reds are 13-10 and tied for second with the Cubs, and yet batting just .241, one up from the bottom in the NL.

Harang, Arroyo, Volquez, Cueto, Owings, and pray for rain, or something like that.

There isn't a Koufax among them. But, the Reds rotation is the perfect stew.

Harang and Arroyo eat up innings. Volquez and Cueto eat up K's. Owings is a workhorse, when he's not doing his best Babe Ruth imitation.

All five guys can get rocked, then the next trip out deliver seven scoreless.

They also are a mixed-bag of personalities. The soft-spoken Harang, the guitar-wielding rocker Arroyo, the ever-so-happy Volquez, the introspective Cueto, and the gentlemanly Owings.

For now, the only stat that matters is second place. That, and the Reds ranking fourth in the NL with a 3.91 ERA.

A "good" rotation, indeed.