With Arroyo, rotation finally has a big name
Right-hander at 4-0 after gem vs. Nats
By Marc Lancaster / Post staff reporter
WASHINGTON - All the usual it's-only-April disclaimers aside, it's difficult to underestimate the impact Bronson Arroyo has had on the Reds.
Five starts into the season, the lanky right-hander has given the Reds the kind of pitcher they're used to seeing on the other side as they bounce around the National League Central division. He doesn't have the track record of Greg Maddux or Andy Pettitte, and he isn't held in the same regard as Chris Carpenter or Roy Oswalt, pitchers accustomed to having their way with Cincinnati.
In the span of five starts, though, he has given opponents a reason to check the Reds' rotation with a bit of apprehension. Right now, it's doubtful many lineups want to see Arroyo's name listed on the card.
The Washington Nationals certainly didn't enjoy the experience Wednesday. Fielding a lineup that was missing Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen, Washington managed a lone hit off Arroyo in his eight innings, by Ryan Zimmerman in the fourth. Only later, when the Reds had wrapped up a 5-0 victory, did that single to right loom so large.
Arroyo had no-hitter stuff Wednesday, but he was hardly bouncing off the walls afterward. Someone asked if this was the best he had ever pitched, and he politely evaded the question. It might rank up there statistically, he said. Left unsaid was that it takes a lot more than an April game in the hulking, mostly empty shell that is RFK Stadium to get his blood pumping.
Not to imply that the one-hitter Arroyo shared with Kent Mercker and David Weathers was a routine day - the Reds hadn't done it since Pete Harnisch and Scott Williamson beat the Pirates on Aug. 19, 1999 - but the pitcher wants more.
Truthfully, he still misses Boston.
"Yeah, of course," he said Wednesday. "Every time I turn the TV on and see a bottom of the ninth home run to win it on Patriots Day (which happened for the Red Sox last week). You're going to miss it if you've played in that city."
It's a matter of intensity, which Boston has and Cincinnati lacks. Arroyo has pitched only once at Great American Ball Park, beating the Cubs in the second game of the season, but he was there during the last homestand against the Marlins, when announced attendance for all three games of the series fell short of 20,000.
That doesn't happen at Fenway Park, and that's something Arroyo will have to wean himself of. But there is an advantage there for the Reds. Whatever challenges they encounter over the course of the season, it will take quite a while before they reach the level of a Red Sox-Yankees playoff series.
"Playing in Boston, playing in New York, even a minor role is a big role," said Reds manager Jerry Narron, who was on the Red Sox coaching staff in 2003. "I don't know that you'd consider what he did in Boston a minor role, I'm not saying that. But just the intensity and the atmosphere, the urgency to win, makes it a bigger role."
In other words, things may seem a bit mundane for Arroyo at the moment, but he isn't likely to crack under the weight of carrying the Reds. More than any other pitcher on the staff, he has done that so far. Though he has appeared in only five of the 22 games that have produced a 15-7 record, Arroyo has given his teammates something to look forward to even when he isn't on the mound.
It's unlike anything Adam Dunn has seen since he joined the Reds, he said. Cincinnati finally has an ace that doesn't bear the designation simply because he's the best of a bad lot.
"I think we have a chance of having a couple," said Dunn. "If (Aaron) Harang keeps going the way he's capable of, Harang could be a dominant pitcher as well. I just hope that they keep it up, and we'll make this a pretty interesting year."
It says something when starts like the one Arroyo had Wednesday almost seem to blend in to a pattern of overall success, rather than jumping off the page in bold colors as the exception to the rule.
"Just brilliant," was Narron's assessment of Arroyo's dissection of the Nationals. "I'm sure it wasn't easy for him, but it looked pretty easy from the side. He had pretty good stuff today."
Arroyo concurred, saying he knew within the first five pitches he threw in the bullpen before the game that he was due for a strong outing.
"And if you have good stuff, especially playing in a park like this that's so big, you can be really aggressive and just try to go after these guys," he said.
Arroyo did so, dealing his way through 3 2/3 innings before allowing his first hit. That came on a 0-2 fastball to Zimmerman that drifted away from where Arroyo wanted to throw it, he said. Up around the neck became over the plate and chest-high, and the ball ended up on the right field grass.
After that, though, Arroyo set down 13 of the last 14 hitters he faced, the lone exception a walk to Ryan Church in the seventh. When he struck out Alfonso Soriano to end the eighth, his pitch count stood at 119.
"No way" was he going back out to try for a complete game at that point, said Narron, and Arroyo agreed.
"I was pretty tired," he said. "Even if he'd wanted me to go the ninth, I was going to tell him to put somebody else in there, because I was running out of juice."
A couple of walks by Mercker in the ninth made things interesting for a while, but he and Weathers retired Vidro and Guillen off the bench to end the game and put Arroyo at 4-0.
"It's as good a start as I can possibly have," he said.
There may be a part of Arroyo that still wishes he was in Boston, where he likely would have begun the season in the bullpen and certainly wouldn't bear as much responsibility to lift the team as he does in Cincinnati.
But there's something about being an underdog - an underdog that doesn't have a $100 million payroll - that might grow on him. Even if it may take a little more time.
"Being in Boston, you're expected to win every night," said Arroyo. "Here, they're picking us to run neck-and-neck with the Pirates for last place. It's kind of a different challenge to prove to people that, you know what, we can win ballgames without having a whole lineup of big names or a starting rotation of big names."
Except all of a sudden the Reds' rotation does have a big name, and there's no doubt whose it is.