REDiculous – Opening Day 2014

It’s here! You have been thinking about this day for months and months—maybe even hyperventilating with anticipation. It is all you have been able to think about. How you were going to feel when this day arrived; that emotional swell that would consume you throughout the day. But those emotions can finally be released because the day is finally here! That’s right, it is the return of the REDiculous column. Oh, and I suppose it is Opening Day as well.

Opening Day has long been a tradition in Cincinnati, as I wrote in last year’s Opening Day column. There is a parade and lots of pageantry all over town. But Opening Day is also something majestic that resides in all of us, the baseball fans. This is our own personal holiday, whether Budweiser is able to secure enough signatures on their petition or not. We live for this day. Sure there is March Madness going on, and we might be reading up on the offseason goings on with our college and pro football teams, but this is Opening Day we’re talking about. It only happens once a year.

For the second year in a row, I’ll be hosting an Opening Day party for my beloved Reds at The Union Pub & Grill, a bar in which I own the kitchen business. We will gather—as Reds fans—and cheer on our team together as we eat cheese coneys and act like we are actually at the game. We will talk about how much we dislike the Cardinals, the team that Cincinnati is going to mercy rule today. We will make our plans to attend the World Series in Cincinnati this year. That is what baseball fans do, and we do it well.

This column will undergo a format change this year, as I fell behind on typing up my notes from watching every game and didn’t get to post the last 30 games or so. This year will be more of an every other day or a couple times per week update, analyzing the Reds and the games they have played. All five of my readers are probably relieved that they no longer have to glance over 900+ words of a game recap.

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And now, here is what happened during the offseason, and what we can expect for this upcoming year. You can’t tell the players without a program!

Major Departures

• Shin-Soo Choo (CF) took his .423 on-base percentage to Texas as a free agent. He will be missed at the top of the order, but I feel he will be just as missed as a person. He quickly became a Reds fan favorite, but it appeared that he was a favorite amongst the team as well. Choo was only here for one year, but he left big shoes to fill.

• Bronson Arroyo (SP) left via free agency as well, after a tremendous run in Cincinnati. Arroyo posted above average seasons consistently during his long tenure with the club, and truly helped right the ship as a major part of the rotation. The man never missed a start and was as dependable as you would want out of a middle of the rotation pitcher. His one major blemish was probably that JTM commercial that was played at every break in the action a few years back.

• Ryan Hanigan (C) will definitely be missed for his handling of the pitching staff and helping prevent stolen bases. Hanigan has also been a consistent contact hitter, though never a major offensive force. He left via trade to the Tampa Bay Rays in a three team trade.

• Manager Dusty Baker also departed the team after getting fired shortly after the season ended. Baker was a polarizing figure amongst Reds fans, but it cannot be denied that the club had a dramatic improvement under his watch. His detractors argue that the Reds could have ascended to even greater heights if not for his managerial decisions, but that is something to which we will never know the answer. His departure is probably the biggest change the Reds will face this year, more so than losing any player.

New Additions

• Brayan Pena (C) was signed as a free agent prior to the Hanigan trade. He is projected to be a backup, though he will get more playing time right away with Devin Mesoraco starting the season injured.

• Skip Schumaker was signed as a utility bench player that could help play infield or outfield.

• Though he was called up in September last year, Billy Hamilton (CF) is new to the club as an everyday player. He will take over for Choo in center field and at the top of the order. Hamilton brings speed as arguably the fastest player in the majors, and will be a force provided he can get on base.

• Manager Bryan Price replaces Baker after serving as Pitching Coach for several years. He is already familiar with the club, but this is his first stint as a manager. His approach to the game and players is revered, and he certainly has the accolades in handling a pitching staff.

• Roger Bernadina (OF), Ramon Santiago (C), and Trevor Bell (RP) are all new additions to the 40 man roster so they can be on the main roster to start the season. Bernadina was brought to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee and had a terrific camp. Santiago will be the third catcher on the club, but as noted Mesoraco is on the disabled list to start the season. Bell will help an injured and depleted bullpen.

• Tony Cingrani is also not much of a new addition per se, but he replaces Arroyo in the starting rotation. Cingrani had an excellent rookie year while filling in for the injured Johnny Cueto.

Injuries (and lots of them!)

• Mat Latos was already recovering from an arm injury when he tweaked his knee and had to have a minor surgery in February. He had hoped to be ready for Opening Day but begins the season on the 15 day DL.

• Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall both had injuries from last year that they are recovering from, and they are still not ready to go. Broxton had surgery on his elbow in August, and hopes to be back in April. He is on the 15 day DL. Marshall has had lingering problems in his throwing shoulder, and it is inflamed again. He too will start the season the 15 day DL.

• As if the bullpen wasn’t hurting enough, Aroldis Chapman took a line drive off the face in a Spring Training game, requiring him to have surgery on facial fractures. He is on the 15 day DL, but he may be out a couple of months as he will need to get his arm back in shape after the long layoff. He is lucky to walk away with only the injuries he sustained, but this is still a major setback and a huge question mark of when he will return and whether he will be the same pitcher.

• Jack Hannahan is on the 60 day DL following his October shoulder surgery. Hannahan is the backup third baseman and a pinch-hitter.

• Skip Schumaker, one of the new signees, dislocated his shoulder in a Spring Training game and opens the season on the 15 day DL.

• As mentioned a couple of times in this column, catcher Devin Mesoraco is on the 15 day DL with an oblique strain. That can be a problematic injury in baseball, affecting batting and throwing. Hopefully he will not have any recurring issues, as he is expected to handle an increased workload this year.

Major Storylines

• Brandon Phillips nearly wore out his welcome according to some journalists, and he was rumored to be traded in the offseason. That did not come to fruition. The bottom line is there are no doubt hard feelings on both sides now, and hopefully Phillips will turn that chip on his shoulder into an amazing year. Though he drove in a lot of runs last year, Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto were always on base ahead of him, and the law of averages should have had him drive in a lot of those runs. His batting average and other numbers were on the decline, though he continued to make amazing plays at second base. I have always felt he was the best fit in the second spot of the lineup, as he is at his best when hitting to the opposite field and not feeling the pressure to drive in runs. New Manager Bryan Price has Phillips in that second slot for Opening Day, which I was very glad to see.

• Johnny Cueto pitched in only eleven games last year, constantly troubled by a lat/oblique strain. When Cueto is healthy, he is one of the best pitchers in the league. The Reds definitely need him to remain healthy as their starting rotation depth has taken a hit. Alfredo Simon has been temporarily moved from long relief to the rotation while injured starter Mat Latos recovers and gets in top form. This in turn would hurt the bullpen should Simon need to remain there if Cueto ran into the same problems as last year.

• How will Bryan Price manage the team and the games? We know he is moving Phillips to second in the lineup, and we know that he wants to be more aggressive on the base paths. Will his strategies and managerial style lead to more wins? I feel that he will be judged against Dusty Baker’s record from last year, no matter the challenges and injuries that his club faces. When you fire the guy that wins 90 games and makes the playoffs, you expect the replacement to do the same or better. That could be a lofty expectation for a first year manager.

• Run, Billy, run. That is what is expected of Billy Hamilton by everyone in baseball. It is no secret to any player, coach, or fan that Hamilton is looking to steal a base or two when he gets on. He could be a major impact on the team’s run production this year. Hamilton has worked on his bunting skills and put in extra time this offseason to improve and get better. He will be a major key to the season, as the more he gets on base, the more dangerous the team becomes.

• Can Joey Votto shake off an “off” year? I say “off” because teams across the league would love to have Votto’s 2013 production. However, Votto had some down months and prolonged slumps last year. He still finished with a .300+ batting average and lead the league in on base percentage by a wide margin. There was all kinds of internet and bar stool chatter that Votto walked too much or did not drive in enough runs. To that, I say it is just as much a product of the lineup around him as it is his approach at the plate. The Reds had a major problem in the second slot of their lineup last year, and Votto continues to be pitched around. I do not have the advanced stats in front of me for this column, but suffice it to say that Votto had a bunch of balls thrown to him that were out of the zone. The man is one of the best hitters alive, so we should all probably let him do his thing and hope pitchers are forced to throw him strikes.

• Jay Bruce didn’t have numbers that showed some amazing improvement over his previous years, but I liked what I saw from him last year. He seemed to limit those ice cold slumps he had become known for, and have more of a level performance. He went to the opposite field a lot more often, which always seemed to help him get in a groove. He will be batting behind Votto this year (as is the current plan anyway), which should help him see a lot more fastballs and balls in the zone. Will Bruce be able to put it all together this year?

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Well, that’s what you need to know going into today’s game. It is Opening Day, and it is against the Cardinals. What more do you need to get pumped up. The first pitch is at 4:10pm EST. GO REDS!

Written by Rus Livingood

Father. Husband. Son. Friend. Employee. Boss. Sports fan. Cooking enthusiast. Batman enthusiast.

Aren't we all?

@ruslivingood

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