Joey Votto talks about the firing of Bryan Price. The Enquirer/John Fay
ST. LOUIS – Eugenio Suarez is throwing and hitting. That’s a sliver of good news in the doom-and-gloom world of the Reds.
Suarez has been on the disabled list with a fractured thumb since April 9.
“I’m so happy, really happy,” Suarez said. “It feels great. We’ll see what happens (Monday).”
Right now, Suarez is just hitting off the tee and soft toss, but Monday is two weeks from the injury, which can be a six-week injury.
“He’s a quick healer,” Reds manager Jim Riggleman said. “He’s coming along. He’s pain free with his swings off the tee and soft toss. I can’t tell you when he’s back. But I can tell you it’s quicker than most people who sustain that injury.”
The Reds obviously could us Suarez with the way offense is struggling. The offensive hole he created at third base is an abyss.
Since he’s been out, Reds third basemen were hitting .109 with no home runs and one RBI entering Sunday. Before Alex Blandino went 3-for-8 with an RBI Friday and Saturday, it was .052 with no RBIs.
WALK THIS WAY: Joey Votto walked four times in Saturday’s game. It was his fifth four-walk game of his career. He also has two five-walk games.
Much is made of Votto’s walks, but they can be a sign he’s about to start hitting. Votto entered Sunday hitting .243 with one double and no home runs.
“I think it’s a sign for a lot of hitters,” Riggleman said. “Even last week, (Adam) Duvall drew a lot of walks, then he got a couple of hits. It seems like they coincide. You walk a lot, it means you’re making better decisions at the plate.
“Four walks yesterday. He’s seeing the ball good. He hit a ball that a lot of days might have been home run. They’re good hitters, and they’re going to hit. We’ve got to try to win a few ballgames before we start hitting.”
Votto hit .256 last April, albeit with nine home runs and 19 RBIs.
“I don’t have any explanation for it,” Riggleman said. “I will say this: I’ve been here since 2015, and each year he got off to not-a-great start then had unbelievable .500 on-base percentage for the All-Star Break on — or maybe even before that. Ridiculous, historic numbers. He works his ass off. He does everything he can to get it going, and he will get it going.
POWER OUTAGE: The Reds went into Sunday with only 11 home runs. That put them on pace to hit 89 this year. They hit 219 last year.
That’s not Riggleman’s department. He leaves that to hitting coaches.
“I get into the details of the game,” he said. “How do we go and win this game? We’ve got to be in the right position. We’ve got to execute fundamentally. We’ve got to play with energy. All those things that the manager can control.
“If we don’t hit home runs, it doesn’t matter if we’re surprised by it or whatever. That’s all going to pick up, but you just deal with it as it comes along. If we don’t hit any home runs today, we still got to win this ball game.”
Offense is down in general, Natinoal Leaguers are slugging .383 this year. They slugged .423 last year.
LEFT, LEFT, LEFT … Riggleman stacked in his four left-handed hitters second through fifth in the lineup Sunday.
He had Jose Peraza in the leadoff spot and Billy Hamilton ninth.
“The Cardinals have one lefty in the bullpen; maybe he won’t be available today,” he said. “Try to stack’s up and give the pitcher a really good challenge.”
Peraza went into the game hitting .246 with .274 on-base. He was hitting .298 after his 0-for-12 start.
“I think he’s been better lately,” Riggleman said. “With Billy 9 and Peraza up there, we do put two speed guys near each other. If we do something going maybe we can get something going on the bases.”
Joey Votto talks about the firing of Bryan Price. The Enquirer/John Fay
ST. LOUIS – You can take one name off the list of potential Reds managers.
Buddy Bell is not interested. Bell, the former Red, is getting calls from friends wondering whether he’d want the job. It’s a natural question. Bell’s employed by the Reds. He’s managed nine years in the big leagues. He’s from a three-generation Cincinnati baseball family.
“But, no,” he said Sunday. “I like what I’m doing. I’m happy. I like working on the player development side as well.”
Bell, 66, was hired by the Reds in the offseason as a vice president, senior adviser to the president of baseball operations. He’s with the team in St. Louis.
Bell worked the previous 14 years in the Chicago White Sox organization, the last five as vice president/assistant general manager.
He sees himself as a front office guy.
“At one time, it was a goal (to manage the Reds),” he said. “I had the opportunity earlier in my career. I wish I would taken it. But not now.”
An appreciation of Joey Votto, the great batsman, can come from the scope of his statistics — many of which, on the back of a baseball card, pop out as if they’re in 3D — or with a microscope on just one at-bat.
Last season, Votto’s preposterous on-base percentage was .454, best in the league. The Red led the league the previous year, as well — and four others before. He just gets on base, sometimes numerous bases. He is the best pest.
“My favorite players growing up — Todd Helton, Barry Bonds, Ted Williams — in all of their styles of play, walks were embraced,” Votto shared Saturday. “Or at least paired with their hitting success.”
So here was Joey at the bat, in the top of Saturday’s ninth against the Cardinals.
Two on, one out. Reds down, 4-3.
He coolly strolled into the lefthanded batter’s box, as a shock of red sock shot up each leg. Back in the first inning, Votto readied and placed his black left cleat on the back white chalk line. By the ninth inning, the back line was as blurred as the frame of a strike zone.
On second base? The tying run in the form of the fastest runner in baseball, Billy Hamilton.
On the mound? The pitcher with the fastest pitch in baseball, Jordan Hicks.
And in the box? The player with the highest career OBP of any active player.
“Joey is legendary for getting on base,” Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “It’s historical the numbers he’s put up.”
Hicks fired a 98 mile-per-hour sinker. Votto unleashed his famous swing, tinkered by tips over the years from “The Science of Hitting,” Williams’ 1970 book.
“I used to travel with it,” Votto said of the book. “Now I just know it by memory.”
Foul ball. Strike one.
Pitch No. 2
This is the 10th season Votto has come through St. Louis, where he’s cobbled together a .329 batting average, complemented by a .444 on-base percentage. To be fair, he hits everywhere.
“The guy’s probably a future Hall of Famer,” Cards outfielder Dexter Fowler said. “He takes a professional at-bat. A guy who grinds.”
He’s won the MVP, played in three postseasons. But now he’s just stuck, the big-money, 30-something on a rebuilding team. But he’s wildly prideful. He takes baseball so seriously. You feel for the guy.
But here he was, 0-1 in the count, with a chance to scrounge up a late lead.
Hicks was 6 when Votto was drafted, back in 2002. Now, they’re division rivals. Hicks fired a sinker that flirted with the outside part of the plate. Ninety-nine. The ump called strike two.
Votto shot a glance back at the ump.
Pitch No. 3
About four hours before, Mike Matheny anticipated a moment like this. Sitting in the dugout before the game, the Cardinals manager said of Votto: “He’s one of those throwbacks. The guy has incredible strike zone awareness, first of all. He puts together a strong at-bat once he gets to two strikes. You’re never out of the woods with him.
“When I say throwbacks, you watch him, he’ll choke up at two strikes — he’s four inches from the end of the bat and will still launch a ball. Especially in their park — he’ll put it in the seats. Short and compact and not going to chase many pitches off the plate. It’s a tough combination.”
Sure enough, ninth inning, there was Matheny in the dugout, watching Hicks in the woods.
Votto, yup, choked up. The kid’s sizzling sinker hit triple-digits … but was outside. Ball one.
Pitch No. 4
Votto has played with pitcher Homer Bailey his whole career. Surely Bailey would be a source to explain why Votto excels so much at drawing walks, perhaps drawing on memories or descriptions of discipline from over the decade.
Queried, Bailey replied: “He doesn’t swing at balls.”
Thank you, Homer.
Of course, way much more goes into this. Repetition. Film study. Instincts. The Cards’ Matt Carpenter is one of the best at this. Walks help him salvage slumps. Even seasons. Well, here was Votto on Saturday, 2-1 count, and Hicks’ pitch blistered toward the lower outside corner of the strike zone.
Votto didn’t budge. Ball two.
“I mean,” Dan McLaughlin said on the Cards’ broadcast, “he has missed by a fraction of an inch.”
Said his partner, Brad Thompson, the former pitcher: “Votto has some of the best eyes in baseball.”
Pitch No. 5
Since 1900, only one player in baseball reached 1,000 walks in fewer games than Votto did.
That was Joe Morgan, a Reds legend.
And Votto is 208 career walks from the franchise record.
That was set by Pete Rose, a Reds legend … who played in more than 1,200 more Reds game than Votto has played.
Votto is a Reds legend.
“We’ve had our rough stretches, and I’d like to win a championship or two here,” said Votto, 34. “But to play for an organization with such long history and that I think is synonymous with the game — it’s a great thing.”
He’s struggling with his stroke so far this season, but he’s coming off a historic season. Hit 36 homers, finished second in MVP voting. And consider this — he played in all 162 games and reached base in 150 of them.
In a way, it’s an honor to even get to watch him battle. And here he was Saturday, tucked into the back of the box, body crouched, bat cocked, ready to uncoil.
One hundred, but high. Full count.
Pitch No. 6
Somehow, Hicks threw the fastball even faster.
The kid’s 3-2 pitch went 101 miles per hour.
Votto did not swing.
How did he not swing?
It singed the top corner of the strike zone and catcher Yadier Molina, a pitch-framing artist, squeezed it just so, bringing the ball maybe an tinge lower into the zone.
In the postgame locker room, Votto was shown the pitch chart of the Hicks at-bat. Pitch Nos. 3, 4 and 6 were all right on the edge of the zone.
“Yeah,” he said. “But I read them as balls.”
What was going through his head on that final pitch from Hicks?
“I didn’t feel anything other than — just make sure that the at-bat doesn’t get ended on me trying to create something that’s not available,” Votto said. “I tried to make sure I took what was given. That was the only thing I really concentrated on. There’s not time to be a hero there.”
Great line. And by not trying to be a hero, he was one, temporarily. Alas, for the Reds, Scooter Gennett grounded into a double play to end the game.
But Votto got the cleanup guy up there … with the bases loaded in a one-run game in the ninth.
Oh, and it was Votto’s fourth walk of the game.
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Finnegan (0-2) took the loss Friday against the Cardinals, giving up four runs on five hits in three innings while striking out two and walking four.
Finnegan was done in by a couple of RBI doubles and a sacrifice fly, putting the score at 4-0 through two. The walks didn’t help Finnegan’s cause, and by the end of the third he was already at 76 pitches. Through two starts, the young lefty has allowed nine runs on 11 hits in 7.1 innings. That kind of run allowance just can’t fly on a Reds team that isn’t scoring very much to start the season (currently the club is tied with Kansas City for last in the majors in runs scored). Next up will be a home start against the Braves.
To say the Reds’ season has been bleak would be putting it lightly. Cincinnati’s nightmare start has nothing on Simon and Garfunkel. They’ve won just three of their 18 games so far, giving them the worst record in MLB. Cincinnati’s run differential (-46) is only second-worst in the league, but that’s mostly because the Marlins got whooped by the Brewers on Thursday while the Reds had the day off. Speaking of days off, the Reds’ offense has taken the whole WEEK off. Seriously—the Reds haven’t scored a run since Monday after being shut out in back-to-back games by the Brewers. Wednesday’s defeat was their fifth shutout loss of the season and it’s only April.
Sure, Charlie Brown’s team was bad but at least they had Snoopy. What do the Reds have going for them right now? Not a whole lot. Homer Bailey, who looks like a superhero but doesn’t pitch like one, has been a shell of his pre-Tommy John self with three losses in the early going, though it’s come with a reasonable 3.42 ERA. The Reds have roughly a million outfielders on their roster, none of whom can hit including Billy Hamilton, who runs like the wind but can barely hit his weight (he weighs 160 pounds). Luis Castillo, one of the few bright spots from last year, has fallen victim to the dreaded sophomore slump. Raisel Iglesias gets a save opportunity about as often as the Olympics. Greg Oden—I mean Anthony DeSclafani—hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2016. Zack Cozart left to sign with the Angels this offseason and took his donkey with him. Even old reliable Joey Votto doesn’t have it this year. Last year’s MVP runner-up in the National League has one extra-base hit in 66 at-bats this season.
When a team does this badly, someone has to be held responsible. On Thursday, the Reds cleaned house by dumping manager Bryan Price along with pitching coach Mack Jenkins. Thursday’s dismissal concluded Price’s four-year run in Cincinnati, which ended with three straight last-place finishes in the NL Central. Aside from losing all the time, Price was probably most known for his profane rant in 2015 which included the use of not one, not two but 77 F-bombs. If this were A Christmas Story, he’d be eating a bar of soap right now. The Reds have had their fair share of bad luck with injuries to Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler, but Price wasn’t getting the job done.
With Price gone, the Reds will turn to Jim Riggleman—yes, he’s still around—as their interim manager. The last team to fire their manager in April was the Tigers in 2002. They finished with a 55-106 record that year. Good luck to you, Jim.
I hate to be the glass-half empty guy, but this probably won’t end well. The time for silver linings has come and gone. It’s all bad. Well maybe not all bad. The Reds do have a few interesting prospects on the way. In fact, three of them are ranked in MLB.com’s top 50 including prized infielder Nick Senzel, a 22-year-old who took the minors by storm last season (.321 AVG in 455 at-bats). Senzel could be a game-changer for the Reds’ offense when he arrives in the majors, but even he can’t solve their pitching woes. So far Cincinnati has yielded a league-high 28 long balls while posting MLB’s second-worst ERA (5.42). That might be passable if you have a murderer’s row lineup that can put up runs in a hurry, but if Tucker Barnhart is leading your team in batting average (.277!), the “murderer’s row” label does not apply to you.
The Cubs and Astros have taught us that bottoming out isn’t the worst thing a struggling franchise can do. Both teams floundered for a number of years but were able to turn their luck around by stockpiling prospects. If the Reds want to be successful, they’ll have to follow the same blueprint. Building through the draft is important but if the Reds want to accelerate their turnaround, they should consider moving assets like Hamilton and Iglesias. Neither of those players are costing the Reds very much, which is exactly what makes them attractive to other teams.
Though maybe not as pronounced as the Reds’ early struggles, the Orioles are going through a similarly trying stretch. They’ve lost 14 of 19 games to begin the year and have little chance of competing in what should be a two-horse race between the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East. The Orioles just put the finishing touches on a disastrous road trip, losing all six games including three straight to the Tigers, who aren’t anyone’s idea of a world beater.
Baltimore’s rebuild is long overdue. For years the Orioles have tried to stay relevant, probably as a way of enticing superstar Manny Machado to stay instead of bolting at the end of his rookie deal, but it seems like reality is finally setting in for all parties. Machado knows his future isn’t in Baltimore and the Orioles can see the writing on the wall for Chris Davis and Adam Jones, who are both in steep decline. Mark Trumbo, who has yet to play a game this year, falls under the same umbrella. Zach Britton, an All-Star closer and Cy Young contender as recently as two years ago, has battled a seemingly endless string of injuries while free agent signing Alex Cobb has limped to a 15.43 ERA through two starts. Even Jonathan Schoop, who was arguably the team MVP last season with 32 homers and 105 RBI, has yet to come out of hibernation (.230 AVG in 61 at-bats).
The solution is staring Baltimore square in the face. The Orioles would surely get a king’s ransom for Machado, who could help a contending team in the same way that Justin Verlander did last year in Houston’s run to the World Series. He should be a goner come July 31 along with Britton and perhaps even Schoop if the O’s really want to blow this thing up. Trading away a franchise cornerstone like Machado will do little to quell the team’s attendance problem, but the prospect haul will at least give the Orioles a chance to start over. More importantly, Baltimore can’t risk losing Machado for nothing when he inevitably skips town next winter.
I get that it’s April 20 and anything can happen between now and October. In fact, the Rangers have gone on a mini hot streak—I assume just to spite me—since I doubted them last week. But the reality is, the Reds and Orioles simply aren’t built for 2018. Change will come soon enough but until then … hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again …
AL Quick Hits: Shohei Ohtani exited Tuesday’s start with a blister but returned to action on Thursday, serving as the Angels’ DH against Boston. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts as the Red Sox extended their winning streak to seven … Xander Bogaerts went through agility drills on Thursday and seems to be making progress as he recovers from a broken bone in his left ankle. He’s a long shot to return during the Red Sox’s current nine-game road trip, though he should be back for Boston’s next homestand, which begins on April 27 … The Yankees activated CC Sabathia from the disabled list on Thursday. He scattered four hits and two runs (both unearned) over 4 1/3 innings in a no-decision against Toronto. Sabathia needed about two weeks to recover from a strained hip … Blue Jays manager John Gibbons confirmed Kendrys Morales (hamstring) will be activated from the disabled list on Friday. The Jays will have a difficult roster decision to make with Randal Grichuk out of minor league options and Teoscar Hernandez off to a strong start (.375 AVG in 24 at-bats) … Zach Britton is slated to throw off a half-mound on Friday. The All-Star closer is still recovering from a ruptured Achilles he suffered in January … Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Ken Giles hasn’t been available the past few days due to a back injury. The closer wasn’t needed Thursday as Houston rolled to a 9-2 win over Seattle … Ryon Healy is set to begin a rehab assignment with Double-A Arkansas. He sprained his ankle in a weight room mishap earlier this month … The Mariners didn’t win on Thursday but they did pull off an interesting triple play thanks to a brain camp by Astros DH Evan Gattis. You can see it for yourself here.
NL Quick Hits: Freddie Freeman left Wednesday’s game after taking a pitch off his left wrist but returned for Thursday’s series opener against the Mets. He went for 2-for-3 with a pair of singles … Matt Harvey labored through another tough outing on Thursday, yielding eight hits and six runs in six innings of work as the Mets fell 12-4 to Atlanta. With Jason Vargas (broken hand) nearing a return, manager Mickey Callaway wouldn’t commit to Harvey making another start … Chris Owings exited Thursday’s game with a head contusion following a collision with teammate A.J. Pollock. Jarrod Dyson replaced Owings in right field as Arizona held on for a 3-1 win over San Francisco … Hunter Pence sat out Thursday’s game against the D’Backs with a sore right thumb. He underwent an MRI and may be headed to the disabled list. That decision could come as soon as Friday with Jeff Samardzija set to return from a strained pectoral muscle … Ryan Braun didn’t start Thursday’s game due to a nagging calf injury but appeared as a pinch-hitter and smacked a three-run homer off Marlins right-hander Junichi Tazawa as Milwaukee cruised to a 12-3 victory. That pushed Braun’s career RBI total to 1,000 … The Padres made room on the roster for Kirby Yates, who is back from an ankle injury, by optioning right-hander Luis Perdomo to Triple-A El Paso. Perdomo has fared miserably in his four starts (8.36 ERA) this year and just finished serving a five-game suspension for inciting a brawl with Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. This will be Perdomo’s first trip to the minors since 2015 when he was still in the Cardinals’ organization … The Cards called up Tyler O’Neill (MLB.com’s No. 94 prospect) for his major league debut on Thursday. He went 0-for-1 in an 8-5 loss to the Cubs … Tommy Pham didn’t start Thursday’s game against the Cubs after injuring his groin a day earlier, though he did make a pinch-hitting appearance in the seventh inning. He should be back in the St. Louis lineup on Friday … Jake Arrieta improved to 2-0 with Thursday’s win over the Pirates. The right-hander allowed just one hit over seven shutout frames while setting a season-high with 10 punch-outs … Lewis Brinson connected on his first two homers of the year in Thursday’s loss to the Brewers, who traded him this offseason in a deal that sent Christian Yelich to Milwaukee. Brinson has mostly struggled this year, batting .156 with 21 strikeouts in only 64 at-bats.