That's how this bunch can win 'em
Column by The Post's Lonnie Wheeler
That's what Jerry Narron has been talking about. That's the kind of team Wayne Krivsky has been trying to assemble.
First, pitching. Krivsky didn't have much time to acquire some after taking over late as general manager, but he did swing the deal for Bronson Arroyo, and a lot of people figured he gave up too much power by letting Wily Mo Pena get away; but uh-uh. It turns out Wayne the Brain may have actually added power to the Cincinnati lineup. Did you see Arroyo in his first at-bat Wednesday as a Red, as a National Leaguer? Home run to left field is all. Just like he used to hit them . . . occasionally ... as a shortstop ... in high school.
"Looks like we got a two-tool player," cracked Adam Dunn, power being one tool and the arm being the other, Arroyo having earned Cincinnati's first victory of the season by pitching into the seventh inning against the Chicago Cubs. "He had a sacrifice, walked and hit a homer. Maybe he'll have to hit fourth against lefties."
Or maybe Rich Aurilia will have to do that again sometime. Aurilia, the second-base candidate who started Wednesday at first, found himself in the cleanup spot against Chicago lefthander Glendon Rusch. With two outs in the opening inning and the Reds already behind 2-0 and Ryan Freel on third base - he had stretched an apparent single into a double leading off, then moved to third on a well-placed ground ball by Felipe Lopez - Aurilia smartly singled in a run. In the third, again with two outs - the Reds had tied the game earlier that inning on Arroyo's startling blow - he homered in two more.
That, too, is what Narron has been talking about. Two-out hitting. Moving runners over. Taking extra bases. All that stuff.
He has a few guys who can do that kind of thing pretty well. Trouble is, most of them play second base. Two of those fellows are Freel and Aurilia. Neither started on Opening Day. Both started Wednesday.
Aurilia, subbing for Scott Hatteberg, drove in three runs. Freel, at second base in place of Tony Womack, scored three and stole three bases.
His last run came in the bottom of the eighth, after the Cubs had closed to 7-6. Ironically, it was one of the few times Wednesday that Cincinnati failed to properly execute. After Hatte- berg, pinch-hitting, opened the inning with a walk, Freel, attempting to sacrifice, bunted too hard and into a force play. But it put him on first base, which can be a very good thing. Sure enough, he stole second and went to third when the throw skipped into center field. He scored when Lopez grounded crisply to shortstop Ronny Cedeno, who thought he had looked Freel back to third base before throwing to first. Nevertheless, the most rambunctious Red dashed madly home.
"That's the kind of baseball I love," said Narron. "Two things Freelie did today. His first at-bat, when he goes to second on the ball to right-center field; then when he scores on the ball to (shortstop). I live for that. That's why I'm in the game."
That, too, is why Freel is in the game, and plenty of people think he should be in it every day. Unanchored, though, he gives Narron some pleasing possibilities. So does Aurilia, who, in his newest position, made a difficult play Wednesday on the very first batter.
"Aurilia is an outstanding defensive player," Narron said. "Nothing against our other guys, but I'd rather see the ball hit to Richie than anybody. He's got great hands, a great arm, and he knows what he's doing."
With his Wednesday homer and Hatteberg's on Opening Day, the Reds have received surprising early power out of the position that Sean Casey held down for so many seasons. Nor were they expecting so much pop out of the pitcher spot.
Arroyo, who had never homered as a professional, has kept his swing alive by hitting soft-toss pitches in the offseason. Now, having seen nine home runs by nine different players in two days at Great American Ball Park, he has quickly come to realize that anybody is capable of reaching its seats at any time. Arriving from Boston, though, he was somewhat accustomed to that.
"Nobody really likes to pitch at Fenway," he said, "but I used to like that park. Over time, I thought it helped our team. Hopefully, it'll play to our advantage this year.
"I guess I can just hope the wind blows in from dead center a few times and it plays like a normal park. But if we're going to whack it around, hopefully we can hit more out of the park than they can."
The Reds have been capable of that for some time now. It's the other stuff that they've struggled with; and are perhaps improving upon.
"Hattie was just telling me after the game," Aurilia said, referring to Hatteberg, another of Krivsky's late acquisitions, "that, you know, with this team, if we can just keep their scoring to a minimum ..."
By no coincidence, the manager and GM have had the same conversation.