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OnBaseMachine
03-28-2008, 08:15 PM
Reds ready to begin the Baker era
New skipper has already had an impact on club's attitude
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com

Come Monday, Reds fans will want to see "the Dusty difference" for themselves.

Playing under new manager Dusty Baker for the past six-plus weeks at Spring Training, the Reds players already have -- even if they can't always put their finger on what it is, exactly.

"I don't know how to describe it," veteran left fielder Adam Dunn said. "It's just a different feeling. There's a different feeling around the clubhouse."

A Red since 2001, and the second-most tenured player on the club, Dunn knows this much -- his team has endured seven straight losing seasons. During that time, the Reds have had little direction, fractured clubhouse chemistry and numerous managers.

"We had no structure, nothing," Dunn said. "He's coming in and basically putting his mark on us. I think it's very easy for him to do because he has all of our respect. He got that early."

Baker's efforts began before camp opened, and were evident from the first day. Unfamiliar with many of them, he requested that players not wear pullover jackets the first few weeks so he could see their names and numbers. He would speak fluent Spanish to players that use it as their first language. The 58-year-old took advantage of a rarely-used high perch above the camp's practice fields so he could watch workouts while taking copious notes. He continued to take detailed notes about his players' performances after exhibition games began.

When he once saw players not performing drills and fundamentals with their full effort early on in camp, Baker nipped it in the bud quickly. He held a meeting and addressed his disapproval. Veterans, like Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr., were personally asked to offer leadership to younger players and set good examples.

"If he doesn't like it, he's going to tell you," Dunn said. "Before, maybe you'd hear it from a coach or someone else. I like that about him."

As Spring Training neared an end, Baker believed his players have bought into his philosophy.

"I hope so. Six weeks isn't a long period of time," Baker said. "There are some shadows you have to get rid of, definitely, that were there. You know, like losing. It wasn't that difficult. Guys were receptive."

Baker realized there would be plenty more character tests for his players, especially after the regular season starts.

"You see who the men are when things are going poorly," Baker said. "Do they continue to hustle and bust butt? That shows you what kind of ballplayer and person you are. When things are going good, it's easy to do things right -- real easy."

While the Reds have tried to mentally prepare themselves to stop the cycle of losing, it still takes tangible additions to make it happen. That was done before camp with the signing of free agent closer Francisco Cordero to a four-year, $46 million contract. Cordero, who saved 44 games last season for the Brewers, immediately improved a bullpen that constantly disappointed in 2007.

The other weakness, the rotation, has been infused with new blood. A wide-open battle for the back three spots yielded two promising but unlikely winners. While Matt Belisle and top pitching prospect Homer Bailey were presumed the pre-camp favorites, it was 21-year-old prospect Johnny Cueto who earned a spot with stunning performances that wowed scouts and teammates. Another young Dominican, 24-year-old Edinson Volquez, did likewise. Veteran Josh Fogg, signed during camp's first week, secured the rotation's No. 4 spot.

The other major camp battle was for the starting center fielder's job. Top prospect Jay Bruce didn't win the spot as many fans hoped, or expected. It appears that late signee Corey Patterson, who previously played for Baker on the Cubs, has claimed the job with a solid spring. Patterson was once a top Chicago farmhand who struggled at times in the big leagues.

"For a guy that came in late, he's looked pretty good. He was very good actually," Baker said. "He's doing things you would have hoped he'd done it earlier than now, but everybody doesn't get it at the same time or same pace. He was on-job training in the big leagues. That's difficult."

Last season, the Reds finished a disappointing fifth place in the National League Central division with a 72-90 record. That type of year would normally offer little optimism to build on for the following year. But there has been little talk of last year.

This is a different team. This is Baker's team, no doubt about that.

"You have guys that work harder, getting here earlier and ready to go each day," said rotation ace Aaron Harang, who will be the Opening Day starter. "There's more continuous effort. When everybody gets in, they're trying to produce, one way or another. It all starts from your manager coming in from Day 1. He's pushed and told us how he wants it. Guys believe in him because they've seen his track record of taking mediocre teams to the playoffs."

But will Baker's presence, and his difference, equate to more wins? That's what Reds fans desperately hope.

Pitching matchup
CIN: RHP Aaron Harang (16-6, 3.73 ERA in 2007)
Harang is starting his third consecutive opener for Cincinnati and is 1-1 in the past two opening games.

ARI: RHP Brandon Webb (18-10, 3.01 ERA in 2007)
In eight career starts vs. Cincinnati, Webb is 4-2 with a 2.83 ERA -- including one complete game.

Short hops
The Reds are 60-62-1 in their history on Opening Day, with the tie coming in a 5 1/3-inning official game shortened by rain vs. the Brewers on April 3, 2000. ... This is the first time the Reds have opened a season against the Diamondbacks. ... In 2007, Cincinnati won the season series, 4-2, but the Reds are 16-29 vs. Arizona since 2001.

On the Internet
MLB.TV
Gameday Audio
Gameday
Official game notes

On television
FSN Ohio

On radio
WLW 700 AM

Up next
Tuesday: Off day
Wednesday: D-backs (RHP Dan Haren, 15-9, 3.07) at Reds (RHP Bronson Arroyo, 9-15, 4.23), 7:10 p.m. ET
Thursday: D-backs (LHP Doug Davis, 13-12, 4.25 ERA) at Reds (RHP Johnny Cueto, 0-0, 0.00), 7:10 p.m. ET

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080324&content_id=2455935&vkey=spt2008news&fext=.jsp&c_id=cin

OnBaseMachine
03-28-2008, 08:18 PM
Reds turn to unsung ace for Opener
Harang emerging as one of the top pitchers in the NL
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com

SARASOTA, Fla. -- When it comes to Reds Opening Day, there was never any doubt who would get the start.

Aaron Harang will get the job for the third straight year when Cincinnati opens the 2008 season on Monday vs. the Diamondbacks. It's something that Harang doesn't take for granted.

"It's a big deal in Cincinnati," Harang said. "We don't get to see all the parade stuff that goes on because we're kind of behind the scenes. But you can definitely tell the atmosphere around the ballpark."

Rarely recognized among the Major Leagues' top pitchers, Harang's credentials indicate he deserves that level of respect. Since the 2005 All-Star break, he's among league leaders in most statistical categories.

Harang's 39 wins is fifth best in the Majors, and his 568 1/3 innings and nine complete games are second best.

What does manager Dusty Baker like most about his ace?

"[He throws] strike one," Baker said. "I saw Harang when he wasn't Harang. I saw Harang in Oakland. He was larger and probably throwing harder, but with less command. The light came on. For whatever reason, I don't know.

"He's probably the most pitch-efficient pitcher in the league."

Harang's effort to be an efficient pitcher came from his college days, when he met former big league pitcher Bud Black, who is now the Padres manager.

"The first question he asked me when I had just met him [was], 'What's the best pitch in baseball?' It caught me off guard," Harang said. "I said, 'Fastball.' He said, 'No, strike one is the best pitch in baseball.' That's always stuck in the back of my head. It automatically puts the hitter at a disadvantage."

That pitch efficiency has helped Harang become one of the game's more durable starters. He's surpassed 200 innings in each of the past three seasons.

Last season, Harang went 16-6 with a 3.73 ERA in 34 starts. He threw 231 2/3 innings and established a career high with 218 strikeouts. And that was after a lackluster spring, when he was 2-3 with a 6.66 ERA.

This spring, Harang has been solid most of the time. He doesn't think there was any correlation between a good spring and a good regular season.

"You try not to think about it," said Harang, who is 1-1 in his two career Opening Day starts. "Spring Training is getting ready for the season, building your endurance up, executing pitches and throwing pitches in counts you might not throw them in [during the season]."

Before the National League Cy Young Award vote last year, Harang was barely a whisper in the conversation. He finished fourth behind winner Jake Peavy of the Padres with one second-place vote and seven third-place votes.

"I had him in my conversation at ESPN," said Baker, who did TV analyst work for the network in 2007 during his sabbatical from baseball. "He's probably the most unheralded potential Cy Young candidate in baseball. It doesn't seem to bother him. He just wants to win."

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080325&content_id=2458471&vkey=spt2008news&fext=.jsp&c_id=cin

OnBaseMachine
03-28-2008, 08:25 PM
Reds Opening Day outlook
With improved pitching, club could contend in NL Central
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com

The Reds are out to prove they are better. It starts on Monday.

Manager Dusty Baker and general manager Wayne Krivsky have attempted to assemble a team that fuses the experience of veterans with young products of their development system.

With talented pitchers like Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, a young first baseman in Joey Votto, and top prospect Jay Bruce waiting in the wings, there is some young energy that's been infused to a Reds club that has endured seven straight losing seasons. The young will combo with the familiar, like Aaron Harang, Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Brandon Phillips.

Add in Baker's philosophy for winning with his complete distaste for losing, and the Reds could be an interesting club to watch in 2008.

Calling card
Despite improvements to the pitching, this team still bashes offensively. Great American Ball Park is a great friend for power hitters, evidenced by the Reds' average of 214 home runs per season over the past three seasons -- most in the National League. Dunn (40 homers last season) Griffey (30) and Phillips (30) form a dangerous heart of the order that could change a game in an instant with the long ball, especially if the Reds' pitchers can keep games closer than they did in the late innings last season.

Projected starting lineup
1. CF Corey Patterson
2. SS Jeff Keppinger
3. RF Ken Griffey Jr.
4. 2B Brandon Phillips
5. LF Adam Dunn
6. 3B Edwin Encarnacion
7. 1B Joey Votto
8. C David Ross

Projected rotation
1. RHP Aaron Harang
2. RHP Bronson Arroyo
3. RHP Johnny Cueto
4. RHP Josh Fogg
5. RHP Edinson Volquez

Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Francisco Cordero
Setup: RHP David Weathers
Setup: RHP Jared Burton
Setup: LHP Jeremy Affeldt
Middle: LHP Mike Stanton
Middle: RHP Todd Coffey

Achilles' Heel
Catching could be a problem, at least in the early weeks. David Ross, who needs a bounce-back season after batting .203 in 2007, missed most of the spring with back spasms. Paul Bako is adequate as a defensive catcher, but he hasn't cracked the .210 mark at the plate the past two seasons. Javier Valentin is a decent hitter, especially from the left side, but he is below average defensively.

You'll know they're rollin if...

The rotation's back three of Cueto, Josh Fogg and Volquez get it done behind Harang and Bronson Arroyo. Last season, the rotation had a 49-59 record, with nearly one-third of the victories coming via 16-game winner Harang. Cueto and Volquez have electric stuff and throw strikes, but they are also inexperienced.

You'll know they're in trouble if...
Corey Patterson can't prove he's a leadoff hitter. Baker wanted Patterson to be signed so the skipper could use him for the leadoff role, even though the 28-year-old has a .299 career on-base percentage in 160 games at the top of the order. Baker insists Patterson is a different player than earlier in his career with Chicago.

Testing, testing
The Reds will meet the Cubs at Wrigley Field from April 15-17. It should provide an indication of where they stack up against the overwhelming favorite for the NL Central race. Last season, the Reds went 9-9 against the Cubs. It will also be Baker's first visit to Chicago since his dismissal as that club's manager following the 2006 season.

Interleague Play
The Reds have a tough Interleague draw when they face the three best teams from American League East, which include the Red Sox at home (June 13-15) and the Yankees (June 20-22) and Blue Jays (June 24-26) on the road. During the road games, Reds pitchers will be tested against power-packed lineups that offer little breathing room.

The Bottom Line
Baker has a track record of turning around mediocre clubs in a hurry. With exciting rotation additions in Cueto and Volquez, a better bullpen with Francisco Cordero and the always potent lineup, the Reds could be a sleeper in a soft NL Central. At face value, 80 wins look very possible, but with some breaks and few injuries, the wins could jump a few notches higher. That should be good enough to contend.

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080324&content_id=2455948&vkey=spt2008news&fext=.jsp&c_id=cin

WMR
03-28-2008, 08:25 PM
I pray Dusty doesn't destroy our starter's arms.