Arroyo Reds' poster boy after debut year
Popular righty thrust into club's media, marketing spotlight
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- It came as no surprise that the Reds have made All-Star pitcher Bronson Arroyo front and center for their media and marketing efforts this year.
When the new Reds media guides were rolled out this week, Arroyo's picture was featured on the cover with none of his teammates.
"Is the first thing I want to see his mug on the media guide?" catcher David Ross joked in the clubhouse. "They had it sitting right here out by my locker. That's not what I want to see. I have to see him for the next eight and a half months coming up."
Even Arroyo found this a little funny.
"It's weird for me, honestly, being a frontrunner as far as being promoted by the team," Arroyo said. "I was sitting in the hotel room looking at my face on the media guide last night. In 2003, I was just fighting to get called up to the big leagues with the Red Sox.
"It's definitely weird to me, especially when you come from a team that had 10 other guys that would have been on the cover well before me in Boston."
A warmer spotlight is understandable.
The right-hander, who turns 30 on Feb. 24, was tops in the Major Leagues with 240 2/3 innings last season. After starting out 9-3 in his first 15 starts, Arroyo went 14-11 overall with a 3.29 ERA and 184 strikeouts. He tied for first in the National League with 35 starts and was also the club's lone All-Star.
The breakout year earned Arroyo a two-year extension to his contract, plus a club option for 2011. Signed earlier this month, it will pay him $33.07 million over the next four seasons.
Off the field, Arroyo's long hair, his burgeoning rock music career and easy accessibility have made him a cult hero among Cincinnatians. He's frequently appeared in local television commercials, pushing health club memberships and Volkswagens.
All of the extra attention comes with extra responsibilities, and plenty of questions. Can he have as good or better second year with the Reds? Can he live up to his big new contract?
Arroyo anticipated that but is treating this season like any other. Other than being part of an All-Star team of Major Leaguers that toured Japan, this offseason was also like any other. He played a small handful of concerts in Cincinnati and New England while remaining dedicated to his regular workout regimen.
"I really never stopped throwing," he said. "I played nice and easy catch for about a month and then started cranking it back up to long toss again. I'm in the weight room or throwing every single day. There isn't a day that I'm not in there. That makes my body feel better."
A wiry-built 6-foot-5 and generously listed at 194 pounds, Arroyo is certainly fit but doesn't have the look of a gym rat. Yet, the weight room has been part of most of his life since he was kid growing up in Florida.
Not only was Arroyo's father, Gus, an aspiring musician at one time, he was also a competitive weight lifter.
"I was bugging him to let me in the weight room when I was five," said Arroyo. "All the things I've been doing now as a Major League player, I've been doing since 1982-83."
Arroyo was born in Key West, Fla., but lived north of Tampa in a rural town called Brooksville since he was 10. It was in both settings that Gus also cultivated his son's skills as a ballplayer.
"He's like a military sergeant with everything in his life," Arroyo said. "He saw me at 5 years old backhanding a ball in T-ball, and he never played catch with me. When I was throwing it across the diamond, he thought we had something there. The next year, we had a batting cage, a pitching machine and a mound in the yard."
Helping Arroyo is that he will share with Aaron Harang the burden of leading the Cincinnati rotation. Harang, who also had a breakout 2006, inked a four-year, $36.5 million contract on Feb. 6, two days before Arroyo got his deal. Strong 2007 seasons by both pitchers is paramount for the Reds to have any chance at contending this year.
Even if he were going it alone, Arroyo probably wouldn't have been fazed.
"Yeah, we have responsibility, but I don't feel any more pressure than I had last year," Arroyo said. "Coming from Boston and playing in that pressure all the time kind of beats you up, and you get used to it. I don't feel like it will ever be too overwhelming here. I'm ready to go out there and try to be consistent."
Reds manager Jerry Narron was coaching for the Red Sox in 2003, when Arroyo arrived at Spring Training not long after being waived by the Pirates.
"He's a young guy that comes to the big leagues, really for the first time in a huge situation, and he was not intimidated the least bit," Narron said. "That would be his biggest intangible."
That's one reason why the Reds believe Arroyo has the makeup and dedication to repeat or exceed his 2006 performance.
"He's got a great feel for what he's doing on the mound," Narron said. "He's got a great feel for what the hitters are trying to do. He has the ability to almost make up pitches, or that's what he appears to do, to get guys out. There's a lot of what he has that you really can't teach. There are guys that have played at the Major League level for years and are scared. This guy is pretty much fearless."
Ross caught 32 of Arroyo's 35 starts last season and appreciates the pitcher's preparation skills.
"He's not a guy that just goes out there and relies on his stuff," Ross said. "He thinks a lot and really studies the hitters."
On March 20, 2006, Arroyo was completely shocked over being traded from Boston to the Reds for slugger Wily Mo Pena. Almost one year later, it appeared that the situation couldn't have worked out better.
"Just being traded over here, I wasn't real sure what I was in for. I wasn't real happy," Arroyo said. "I'm definitely comfortable here, 100 percent. I like the guys on the club."
Arroyo seemed poised to flirt with 20 wins last season until a midsummer stretch, in which he notched one victory in 13 starts, derailed his chances. That experience hasn't altered his goals.
"Not at all. I say 200 innings and 15 wins is my goal every year," Arroyo said. "Anything above that is a bonus. As long as I can take the ball every fifth day and throw six or seven innings, I feel like I'll be alright."
As do the Reds.