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04/30/09 12:46 PM ET
One game at a time for Reds
Cincinnati perseveres through tough first month
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Rare is the time that one April victory can carry so much weight. But it certainly did for the Reds on Wednesday. A 3-0 win over the Astros meant finishing April at 11-10. Being one game over .500 is certainly better than the alternative, especially when you consider the wacky month this club had. Cincinnati's team batting average is .235, which is ranked 15 out of 16 National League teams. At one point, it was a Major League-low .210. Their 78 runs scored is ranked 14th in the NL. Joey Votto, hitting .346 after playing in all 21 games, has been the lone constant in the lineup. Although a tremendous effort was made to shore up defensively, the Reds' 18 errors are third most in the league and their .977 fielding percentage is 14th. "We've played good baseball at times and at times, we've been inconsistent," Reds infielder/outfielder Jerry Hairston Jr. said. "I think the biggest thing we're trying to correct is our defense. We have a lot of guys that can get to a lot more balls and make more plays so the chance for errors goes up. It's something we know we can correct and make our team stronger." While the Reds went 7-3 on a 10-game road trip with three series wins at Milwaukee, Houston and Chicago, they are 4-7 at Great American Ball Park after just completing a 2-4 homestand. The home series record is 0-3-1. Last year after the first month, the Reds were 12-17 after the first month and 9-12 after the first 21 games, which incidentally was when former GM Wayne Krivsky was let go. The club went 15-12 last May, which was one of only two months when it was over .500 in 2008. This April was a shorter month than usual because of a later start to the schedule and more off-days. "I think everybody is relatively pleased with the record, based on how bad our batting average is and how many errors we've made," Reds starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. "Our team ERA is higher than it should be too. We have found a way to win games early on with timely hits and just fortunate things have happened to pull out 4-3 games." Pitching has been the Reds' main savior to this point. The team ERA of 4.11 is fifth in the NL, but the key stat focuses on how valuable starting pitching has been. Cincinnati is 8-1 when it gets a quality start and 3-9 when it doesn't. In the standings, the Reds are tied for second place in the NL Central with three teams and sit 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Cardinals. It's not a bad place to be for a team filled with young players going through their first seasons as front-and-center players. "It's satisfactory because you really have no choice," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It's done now. We [have] 11 wins in a short month. Ideally, I like to win 15 games a month, and that's 90 games. That puts [a team] in position, most times, to be pretty good." Finishing above .500 in April was also important because it provided some momentum, as the schedule only gets tougher in May. Friday's series opener vs. the Pirates begins a stretch of 25 games in 27 days. The Reds will be on the road for 14 games over the next month, including seven games on the West Coast where they've often had trouble in recent years. "Coming up will be a little difficult," Hairston said. "We go from the East Coast, back home and then out to the West Coast. That's Major League Baseball and the grind. There are no excuses. If you want to contend, you have to make sure you win the majority of those games. We feel we have a team capable of doing that." There are signs of improvement that have the Reds feeling optimistic. Hitters like Jay Bruce and Ramon Hernandez seemed to have found their way out of funks. Others, including Brandon Phillips and Alex Gonzalez, have started to show some improvement. Edinson Volquez had been lackluster over his four starts, but broke out with eight scoreless innings and one hit allowed in Wednesday's win over Houston. Ace Aaron Harang has a 3.09 ERA in five starts and Johnny Cueto has been fantastic with a 2.19 ERA over his four starts. Micah Owings is coming off of his first good outing. The bullpen, especially the back end, has been sensational. Francisco Cordero is 7-for-7 in save chances and setup men David Weathers and Arthur Rhodes have yet to allow a run over a combined 14 1/3 innings. If the Reds can sustain their plus-.500 ways, they could achieve their first winning record since the 2000 season. Of course, it's still early. "One thing I like about this team is we don't get down," Hairston said. "We let things go. If we lose, we let it go and move on and get ready for the next day. We have a lot of positive guys in this clubhouse. It's a great thing. We have guys with experience and maybe the younger guys don't know any better, which is good. I think it will bode well for us."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.