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02/19/12 1:38 PM EST
Eager Reds open camp eyeing success
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The signs of a new season getting under way aren't always glamorous or highlight worthy. On days like Sunday morning at Reds camp, it meant having pitchers and catchers stand in line to get blood drawn for their physicals and return to their lockers with a bandage on the inside of their arm. But mundane procedure aside, it's time to get going with baseball. Spring Training began for the Reds as pitchers and catcher reported in the morning, with a workout scheduled in the afternoon. "It feels really good, actually," starting pitcher Homer Bailey said. "You work all offseason and it flies by. Here we are again." All 30 pitchers and six catchers on the spring roster reported without issues. Many enjoyed their offseasons and family time, but the itch to get back to work with the club eventually returned. "For me, it was at the end of January," Reds reliever Bill Bray said. "I woke up and said, 'I'm ready. Let's go.' Not that the workouts stopped, but I was tired of going to the gym and the track. I was ready to get on the baseball field. Then you get here, see the beautiful green grass, the weather is nice, the sun is out and you get that itch to start playing." The Reds were one of the busiest teams over the winter in trying to make upgrades, especially their pitching. That's made the anticipation for the opening of Spring Training all the more fervent. But awards aren't handed out for productive winters nor for how a team looks on paper. It's all about results on the field, and the earliest stage of that journey began on Sunday. "You want to get your team prepared," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We have a pretty good idea of what we have on the veteran side. There are a few new guys we don't know yet."
The Reds, coming off a National League Central title and their first playoff berth in 15 years in 2010, fell flat in '11, with only 79 victories and a third-place finish.Changes were expected, and after a slow first half of the offseason, they came in rapid succession, starting in mid-December. General manager Walt Jocketty made one of the boldest trades of the winter when he sent coveted prospects Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger and Yasmani Grandal, along with starting pitcher Edinson Volquez, to the Padres for starter Mat Latos. The right-handed Latos, likely No. 2 in the rotation behind Johnny Cueto, is only 24 and has ace potential in the club's eyes. A week later, the Reds addressed their bullpen by adding left-handed setup man Sean Marshall in a trade with the Cubs that sent Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt and Minor Leaguer Ronald Torreyes to Chicago. Jocketty filled more holes via the free-agent market, signing former Phillies closer Ryan Madson to a one-year contract that pays him $6 million this season, with money deferred. Outfielder Ryan Ludwick came next, signing a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Utility man Willie Harris and starter Jeff Francis, both free agents, were signed to Minor League contracts, and utility infielder Wilson Valdez was acquired in a trade with the Phillies. "The team has a lot of talent at every position," Latos said late last month. "It just adds to a great ballclub and a potential postseason run." The Reds feel this could be their year, and their aggressive moves indicate how badly they want to reclaim the NL Central. They also know that the elite teams of the division, the World Series champion Cardinals and defending division champion Brewers, absorbed tough free-agent losses with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, respectively, defecting to the American League. "We've restocked and retooled our team," Baker said on Sunday. "The next thing is to get everybody together as soon as possible and just play." Though the roster is filled with talent and job openings are scarce, there are questions to sort out. The Reds have an unsettled situation in left field, where Chris Heisey and Ludwick could share time. The back of the rotation will be a battle, as there are seven starters in camp seeking five spots. Will one of them go to Aroldis Chapman, who is converting back to a starter? Can rookies Devin Mesoraco at catcher and Zack Cozart at shortstop firm up their likely roles as regulars? And who will claim the last few bench spots? The full squad is due to report and work out on Friday, and the Cactus League opener is against the Indians on March 3 at Goodyear Ballpark. "Nothing is better than when you know you've got some good troops," Baker said. Cincinnati's spring roster has 58 players total. Thus the one unavoidable truth that looms is that one way or another, the Reds will have to whittle it down to a 25-man roster to take back to Great American Ball Park to open the regular season on April 5 vs. the Marlins.