Spots up for grabs as camp opens
Fifth starter, closer jobs to be decided in Spring Training
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The counting down towards this day has finally ended.A day that's been eagerly anticipated by players, fans, front-office staff and media alike, Reds pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Saturday. "You start thinking about this day a week after the season ends," reliever Bill Bray said. "It's exciting. You get to see guys you haven't seen all winter. The start of camp is always fun." "This is your family for the next seven to eight months," catcher David Ross said. "It's nice to get back to these guys." Maybe, but a new countdown has quickly replaced the old one -- now the itch begins until the regular season finally starts. "How many days do we have left?" joked reliever Mike Stanton. "The first part of camp is always fun. You're meeting new people and it's exciting. It's usually the end of the second week or beginning of the third week in March, when you really start looking at your watch and the calendar and trying to figure out when you need to start packing." Workouts for Reds pitchers and catchers will begin at the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Sunday. The full squad is scheduled to report on Wednesday, with full workouts commencing on Feb. 23. That hasn't prevented several early arrivals from getting started ahead of time. Ken Griffey Jr., Todd Coffey, Stanton, Scott Hatteberg, Homer Bailey, Matt Belisle, Chris Denorfia and Eric Milton are among those that have already been working out on their own. "We've had a lot of guys down here the last couple of weeks," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "It's always nice to see guys come early." A winter's worth of speculation about potential signings and trades has also been replaced by a spring's worth of speculation about the eventual makeup of Cincinnati's final 25-man roster when camp breaks on March 31. That's certainly nothing new in this game. But this year will be a stark departure from the previous camp for Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky. Around this time last year, Krivsky was hired and on the job for just one week. "[It's] a lot different," Krivsky said. "How do you describe it? It's almost like night and day really. I feel like I've got my feet underneath me a little bit better than I did this time last year. Just the familiarity. It's a little more relaxed than it was last year. The game was a little fast this time last year. "It doesn't mean we don't have a lot of work to do, but the pace has slowed down a little bit." In an attempt to reshape the roster with his own people, Krivsky added several players just before last year's camp. The clubhouse, which was already filled to capacity, had several extra lockers brought in to accommodate the influx. The player population is closer to normal this year with 57 players slated to be in camp at the Reds' big-league complex, including 17 non-roster players. Two players -- reliever Eddie Guardado (elbow surgery rehab) and catcher Miguel Perez (right rib removed) -- have not been medically cleared to participate yet. Krivsky still remained busy in the winter and added several new faces, including shortstop Alex Gonzalez, Stanton, pitcher Kirk Saarloos and first baseman/outfielder Jeff Conine. Free-agent pitchers David Weathers, Paul Wilson and Guardado were re-signed and are back in the fold.
Except for reliever Kerry Ligtenberg, who was signed to a Minor League deal earlier this week, no last-minute or in-camp additions were immediately expected."I don't know another team that doesn't look to get better," Krivsky said. "I don't know that you ever stop looking. But I don't see as much urgency right now. That doesn't mean you stop working. Once the games get started and you have your scouts out watching games, [you begin] figuring out what other teams are looking for and what we might be looking for." A few jobs are up for grabs, including the fifth starter's spot. Saarloos, Belisle, Elizardo Ramirez and non-roster invite Victor Santos are among those in the battle. Could the jockeying for position also include super prospect Bailey? Unlikely, but a lights-out spring could make the question all the more intriguing. The Reds also haven't named a closer yet to open the regular season. Weathers, Stanton, Ligtenberg, Bray and Coffey are among those in the mix. Another spring storyline: Could this be the year that Griffey moves from his familiar center field to right field? All of these questions, and probably more, will be answered by April 2, which just happens to be when the Reds open the regular season against the Cubs at Great American Ball Park. Until then, Grapefruit League games in the Sunshine State will have to suffice. The Reds' exhibition schedule begins on March 1 against the Pirates at Bradenton. The first home game at Ed Smith Stadium is on March 3 against the Twins. "Camps, after a while, all kind of run together and are kind of the same," said Stanton, an 18-year big-league veteran. "You go about your business, try to get ready and go out and do your thing."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.