Monday, April 12, 2010

'Cool Hand' Leake

On the right-hand side of the Reds clubouse there are three lockers separated from the rest by a dividing wall and a doorway that leads to a conference room and manager Dusty Baker's office.

It is no coincidence that the lockers are reserved for a trio of starting pitchers. It's also seemingly no accident that this threesome has one personality trait in common.

Actually, three -- Calm. Cool. Collected.

First, there's the Reds' five-time Opening Day starter Aaron Harang -- the ballclub's resident gentle giant, soft-spoken, unflappable.

To Harang's far left is the golden-locked Bronson Arroyo -- part-time rocker, full-time innings-eater, and Key West native.

The newest addition to the Corner of Coolness is rookie right-hander Mike Leake - the long-haired Southern California native who Baker likened to a "little surfer".

Leake, of course, became just the 21st player since the first-year player draft was instituted in 1965 to make his Major League debut without appearing in a minor league game when he started against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.

Leake calmly escaped a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the first inning then cruised through 6 2/3 innings, allowing just one earned run on four hits. He struck out five and walked seven, the most he's ever issued in a game.

"I should've kept the ball from my seventh walk as a souvenir," said 'Cool Hand' Leake.

While family and friends sweated through Sunday's outing in Section 125 behind home plate (particularly his mother who was visibly nervous), Leake kept his composure.

Had Leake buckled under the pressure and folded amid the magnitude of his moment, he would've been asked to turn in his membership card in the Reds' Joe Cool Club.

As it stands, the 22-year old is stuck between Harang and Arroyo, making him a fixture in the Laid Back Wing.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Emptying the notebook ...

-- It's a long way from Holquin, Cuba, but Toledo, Ohio is where 22-year old Reds right-hander Aroldis Chapman will make his American pro debut.

Chapman will make his first start for the Triple-A Louisville Bats against the Toledo Mud Hens on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The Cuban Cannon posted a 1.69 ERA in five Spring Training games, walked seven and fanned 15 in 12 2/3 innings. Back spasms ended Chapman's bid to earn the No. 5 spot in the Reds starting rotation.

Last year's No. 1 draft choice Mike Leake, who beat out Chapman for the 5th spot, likely will make his big-league debut Sunday as well, at Great American Ball Park against the Chicago Cubs.

-- Kudos to Yankees president Randy Levine who blatantly called out Brewers owner Mark Attanasio for "whining" about the Bombers' payroll.

Competitive imbalance, yeah I get it. But the Yanks have been lining the pockets of purported small-market owners for years. Hey Attanasio, don't spend your portion of the Bombers' $175 million gift and shared TV revenue all in one place.

-- Include me among those who believe Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski got it right.

Sure, his decision to intentionally miss a free throw with three seconds remaining gave Butler a chance to win the national title with a half-court heave. He could have made the free throw giving the Bulldogs an opportunity to just tie the score, but with a higher-percentage shot. Funny, nobody questions Coach K's move if Howard's attempt doesn't glance the rim.

Best-ever NCAA Tournament? It's close.

-- For freelance writers, it's all about the clips.

A last-minute decision to accept a work opportunity on Easter Sunday landed me a keeper for the portfolio.

A C1 piece on Aaron Harang's pressure-packed Opening Day start:

-- While we were waiting to speak to Dusty Baker prior to Sunday's pre-Opening Day workout, a local TV reporter and I were discussing the location of Brandon Phillips' locker. And, we're not the first to question it.

When they give tours of the Reds clubhouse, I wonder if visitors need to catch a shuttle bus to view No. 4's cubbie?

It's situated at the far end of the clubhouse with a dividing wall between Phillips and his nearest teammate. The lockers to Phillips' left are vacant, usually until September callups.

It's telling.

As was Phillips' decision to snub the Enquirer's John Fay during Spring Training with a "How come you haven't written about me?" diatribe. Phillips likes to smile for the cameras and for the fans, but when it comes to maturity and leadership ...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Reds delay Chapman, avoid circus

Kudos to the Reds for not parading Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman out to the mound at Great American Ball Park in order to seize a "Look who we got!" moment.

This would've been too easy.

The Cuban Cannon throws 100-plus mph. Chapman most certainly would've generated a considerable spike in ticket sales, widespread media attention and more than likely help ship a few of his jerseys off the shelves.

Instead, the Reds did what's right. Or, it could be viewed as doing what's necessary since Chapman was shelved with back spasms late in spring camp.

The acquisition of Chapman and his corresponding mega-contract raised eyebrows throughout baseball, mostly because it was the small-market bottom-feeding Reds who worked the deal.

Chapman likely will make his much-ballyhooed debut at some point this season.

But, for now, the 5th spot in the rotation appears to hinge on Travis Wood or top draft choice Mike Leake. Here's betting on "Smoky" Travis Wood.

In Chapman's case, the Reds made a baseball decision in lieu of business.

No cheerleaders, exploding scoreboards and multiple mascots needed this time.

These Reds are intent on winning. Many experts believe they're on the right path toward doing just that.