John Clay: Reds bruised, not beaten, in tightening NL Central race

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJuly 12, 2014 

Pirates Reds Baseball

Bryan Price said "sitting on my hands" wasn't going to fix the Reds' offense.

AL BEHRMAN — AP

CINCINNATI — By now, you would think Bryan Price would be ripping his hair out.

He's a first-year manager, after all, handed the lofty expectations of a Cincinnati club whose wild-card playoff loss last season sent his old boss to unemployment. And what greets the Californian but a traveling triage?

Thirteen Reds have visited the disabled list, many for multiple sessions. Joey Votto, former National League MVP, is currently disabled a second time. Brandon Phillips, three-time All-Star second baseman, joined the list after surgery Friday.

Pitchers Mat Latos, Sean Marshall, Tony Cingrani, Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Broxton have all done time on the rehab line at various points during the year.

So when the new manager sits down in his office chair to fill out that lineup card each day, does he open up a drawer and pull out a large bottle of headache medicine?

"I actually kind of look forward to it," Price said Saturday before the Reds played the Pirates in the second of a three-game series.

Seriously? No Votto. No Phillips. Rookie center fielder Billy Hamilton has battled bruises and strains thanks to his dynamic style. Now jack-of-all-trades Skip Schumaker is on the seven-day concussion list.

"Before, we had a fairly set lineup," Price said. "(Now) I can deal a little bit more with matchups and lineup construction and things that I didn't have to concern myself with quite as much in June and the early part of July before these injuries hit."

Such is the Price persona. Take lemons and make lemonade. When Phillips tore a ligament in his thumb Wednesday night, Price's reaction was we'll-deal-with-it.

"No one is going to feel sorry for us," he said.

Surely, his calm demeanor and communication skills have helped the Reds weather the emotional storms. On June 22, Cincinnati was 81/2 games behind National League Central leader Milwaukee. After Friday night's 6-5 comeback win, the Reds were 11/2 games back, a half-game behind St. Louis and two games in front of Pittsburgh.

Surprised?

"No," Price said. "You know what, we talked a lot early in the year with the way we were playing and our inconsistent style of play, it's a 162-game season. All these different things that happen year after year in baseball should remind us you can't predict anything."

Not this crazy year. In the sixth inning Thursday against Chicago, starting pitcher Homer Bailey held on to the ball after going through his wind-up and took himself out after experiencing pain in his right knee. Friday night against Pittsburgh, Latos did not return to the mound for the sixth inning because of pain in his back.

Thankfully, the All-Star break begins Monday, and not a moment too soon. Price expressed confidence Bailey and Latos will not miss a start when play resumes Friday, even if both have to be slotted in the back of the five-man rotation.

As for the others who are ailing, timetables are tentative. Votto's quad strain needs "weeks not months" of rest, Price said. Same goes for Phillips' thumb. Price indicated Schumaker was feeling better Saturday, but concussions are tricky business.

"We've got some longer-term injuries and some short-term injuries," Price said. "The short-term injuries, I don't think we'd be able to weather without the All-Star break."

Nor would the Reds have been able to weather the medical misery of the first half without the pitching of Alfredo Simon, Johnny Cueto, Broxton and Chapman, just to name a few.

But then Milwaukee, St. Louis and Pittsburgh boast strong staffs, as well.

So is it safe to predict that the NL Central will be a four-team dogfight right to the end?

Said Price, "I don't think there's any reason to think that it would be any different."

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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