Cincinnati Reds start spring training in Arizona

By Dave Ross - Contributing columnist

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Cincinnati Reds pitchers and catchers hit the field on Wednesday morning to open spring training in this west Phoenix suburb. Late in the workout I was watching pitchers bunting practice with Vice President of Media Relations Rob Butcher, whom I’d been with at the Sidney Rotary Club just 16 days earlier.

The bunting lessons appeared to be grasped only by starter Homer Bailey.

Rob’s phone rang. “Hi, how’s it going? It’s raining here,” he told the caller in slight disbelief. It doesn’t rain very often as I’ve discovered since the Reds landed here in 2010. Wednesday’s workout temperature was about 60 degrees.

At the outset of the session I was standing on the main field with a small media group when assistant trainer Tomas Vera approached. He had gained a level of notoriety as the interpreter for fireballer Aroldis Chapman a few years back. Vera offered each of us free chapstick in a choice of flavors. Broadcaster Jim Day jokingly inquired if they were new or used and was told, “We may be small market, but we’ve got plenty of chapstick. Everybody gets their own.”

Thirty-five pitchers and six catchers are here before the full squad arrives on Monday. Some select minor leaguers are also in early camp. Twenty-nine of the pitchers are right handed with only a half dozen lefties. I’m told this disparity is not uncommon since righties are in greater supply and it’s been statistically proven that many of them are quite adept at getting left-handed hitters out. At least four of the lefties should make the final 25 man opening day roster. Big league clubs usually carry 12 or 13 pitchers in the regular season.

I talked to bench coach Jim Riggleman after practice and he immediately asked about San Diego pitcher and North Star native Craig Stammen who had pitched for Riggleman when he managed the Washington Nationals. The Reds actively pursued Stammen this winter and his former skipper gave him a solid endorsement. “I tried to help get him here and we got close, but it didn’t quite happen,” said the former field boss of three National League clubs. “I’m glad he got two years from the Padres. He deserves it.”

The Padres train in my western home of Peoria, about 30 minutes from Goodyear, and I’ll see Craig often in the next six weeks. A year ago I also followed Maria Stein pitcher Cory Luebke with the White Sox and Fort Loramie outfielder Jared Hoying with Texas. Luebke is now retired.

Hoying got some major league time each of the past two summers and decided to attempt a jump-start of his career with a journey to South Korean baseball. His Hanwha Eagles are already playing exhibition games during spring training in Okinawa. Earlier this week I asked him to share some thoughts with you and his response follows.

“Everything is good here in Okinawa. We finally had our first game yesterday. I played four innings and got two at-bats before a sub came in. Practices here are pretty much the same as in the states with the lone exception of only having one field to practice on.

“Makes it tough but things get pretty creative at times. I’ll slowly start getting more and more game action. We still have about five weeks until opening day; no need to rush things.”

Reds catching drills also occupied some of my Wednesday morning. Gold Glove winner Tucker Barnhart seemed bothered by the lack of speed and accuracy of his throws to second base. Meanwhile, Devin Mesoraco again returns from injury/surgery and looked solid in all phases. Just four years ago he was an all-star and stroked 25 homers then signed a lucrative four-year deal that will get him to free agency next winter.

Exhibition games here in the Cactus League begin on Feb. 23. I saw my first spring training game 51 years ago, and it’s still a special experience.

By Dave Ross

Contributing columnist

Award-winning columnist Dave Ross is covering his 28th consecutive spring training.

Award-winning columnist Dave Ross is covering his 28th consecutive spring training.