All it takes is patience
Coach shows good things come to those hitters who wait
BY JOHN FAY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
When the Reds finally slew the monster, they did it softly.
The Reds beat Roy Oswalt - after 15 straight losses to him - on a night when they had one extra-base hit.
Friday night was atypical in that the Reds beat Oswalt, yet they did it in the style that has become typical for them this year: patiently.
The Reds worked three walks off Oswalt, ran his pitch count to 111 in six innings and added a couple walks off the middle relievers who took over.
The Reds went into Saturday leading the National League in runs, double, home runs, walks and on-base percentage. They were second in slugging percentage.
They have become the offense hitting coach Chris Chambliss sought to build when he arrived in 2004.
Preaching patience has been the key. The 2003 team finished 14th in the NL in OBP. The Reds improved to ninth in '04, to fourth last year and to first this year.
Reds manager Jerry Narron's explanation?
"All I know is Chris Chambliss does a great job," Narron said.
Chambliss came to the Reds with a great reputation. He was the hitting coach for the New York Yankees in their run of four titles in five years from 1996 to 2000. He was fired the day after the team's parade for winning the 2000 World Series.
Chambliss spent three years with the Mets before then-Reds manager Dave Miley hired him in December 2003.
Chambliss did not immediately hold a meeting and say to the players, "Walk more."
"I don't talk about walks," he said. "It's not that cut and dried."
What he works on is pitch recognition and teaching the hitter to let the pitch come to him.
"We have drills we use," he said. "All these guys have great bat speed, so they can wait until the pitch gets deep."
Chambliss' prize pupil this season has been Edwin Encarnacion.
Encarnacion, the youngest Red, at 23, went into Saturday with 12 walks and 11 strikeouts. Last year, he struck out 60 times and walked 20.
"I'm being more patient at the plate, waiting for the pitch in the strike zone, thinking (about hitting it in the) middle or the other way," Encarnacion said. "Last year, I tried to pull everything."
Narron points to the day Encarnacion walked with the bases loaded in Milwaukee as one of the significant moments of the season so far.
"It's hard to be patient," Encarnacion said.
Patience is what Chambliss wants, not passivity.
"He tells me to be aggressive but be patient," Encarnacion said.
The cumulative effect of the patience is higher pitch counts.
That's what got Oswalt out early Friday. Only two pitchers have gone at least seven innings against the Reds this year, and only one has gone eight.
"Any time you've got guys who see a lot of pitches, it helps the hitter behind you," Narron said. "It helps all through the lineup. If you can get a starter out of the game by the sixth inning, you've got a chance to see some middle (relievers)."
The Reds still strike out a lot, but the strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved. They went into Saturday with 164 strikeouts and 113 walks - a 1.45-to-1 ratio. Last year, the Reds struck out 1,303 times and walked 611 - a 2.13-to-1 ratio.
"We're working on it," Chambliss said. "It all comes from good work habits."
WALKING THE WALK
When Chris Chambliss arrived as hitting coach in 2004, the Reds were a bunch of free swingers who didn't walk often, struck out a ton and hit their fair share of home runs. In the three years under Chambliss' tutelage, patience has become more and more a virtue. The Reds still strike out a lot, but with the increase in walks, numbers across the board have improved. A look at the club's National League ranking in key categories:
Year AVG R 2B HR RBI BB SO SLG OBP
2003 15 13 16 6 13 11 16 13 14
2004 13 10 12 6 10 3 16 9 9
2005 8 1 1 1 1 2 16 1 4
2006 5 1 1 1 1 2 13 2 1
CHANGE IN THE AIR: Player development director Johnny Almaraz says it's no coincidence that Elizardo Ramirez attributed his first major-league win to the changeup.
Almaraz hopes to make teaching the pitch a priority. Mario Soto, a member of the Reds' Hall of Fame and a changeup master, began teaching it at the Reds' Dominican academy when he was hired last year.
"I want everyone to have one as a secondary pitch," Almaraz said. "It's less stressful (to the arm) than a breaking ball, especially the slider."
Soto is serving as the pitching coach at Triple-A Louisville.
"If you look around baseball, a lot of guys who are successful - (Johan) Santana, (Greg) Maddux, (Tom) Glavine, even Pedro (Martinez) - they throw the changeup," Almaraz said.
The St. Louis Cardinals and the Houston Astros are the teams most responsible for the Reds' run of five straight losing seasons. Look at what the Reds have done against Houston and St. Louis, as opposed to the rest of the schedule:
St. Louis: 7-10
The rest: 53-73
The skinny: This was Bob Boone's first year. The Reds had winning records against both the Astros and Cards in Jack McKeon's final two years.
St. Louis: 8-11
The rest: 64-62
The skinny: The Reds dominated the Cubs (12-5) and Milwaukee (13-6).
St. Louis: 9-7
The rest: 55-74
The skinny: This is the only year in the run when the Reds had a winning record against either club. The Cards, however, were one of only three NL teams against which the Reds had a winning record.
St. Louis: 5-14
The rest: 65-61
The skinny: The Reds had losing records against only three other NL teams.
St. Louis: 5-11
The rest: 64-66
The skinny: The Reds were especially bad on the road against the Big 2 - 1-6 at St. Louis and 1-8 in Houston.
Chris Gruler, the No. 1 pick in 2002, continues to battle shoulder problems. Gruler has not pitched since July 2003. He was making decent progress early in spring training, throwing off the mound and not far behind the non-rehab pitchers.
But he had a setback. These days, he's long-tossing up to 120 feet. That's a long way from competing.
"He's dealing with the aches and pains of rehab," Reds director of player development Johnny Almaraz said. "We're hoping he's ready for the short season."
The short season begins June 20 when Billings and the Gulf Coast Reds open.
From Tom in Reston, Va.: I am amazed at the obsession with the long ball that Reds management seems to have when it comes to Adam Dunn. He is one of their most marketable players, and I think they should trade him for some pitching if at all possible, though I realize pitching is at a premium. Before you laugh off my suggestion, here are the reasons why it seems like a good idea to me: He is one-dimensional; he has no speed and no arm; he is a serious liability in the outfield. The Reds' pitching is bad enough without having to play with inferior defense. As a hitter, he seems to have no ability to go the opposite way. He has great power and on-base percentage, but I just think the Reds would be better off trading him ... for a solid starter.
A: Dunn's probably never going to hit .300, and he's definitely not going to win a Gold Glove. But he's going to score 100 runs and drive in 100. And he's 26, just entering his prime. A pretty good pitcher would have to be in the return package to deal him.
Q, from Charlie in Orlando, Fla.: Where did David Ross come from, and do we expect him to play any more than he is right now? Looks like he is doing a pretty good job behind the plate, with very little press.
A: The Reds traded minor-league pitcher Bobby Basham for him on March 20 - the day after the Bronson Arroyo-for-Wily Mo Peña deal. The day of the trade, the standard reaction in the press room was: Why? Now, we know. Ross is great at working with pitchers and he's got pop in his bat. Wayne Krivsky's deals are best not judged at first blush. That Brandon Phillips thing has sort of worked out.