Cincinnati Reds

Reds confident last year's division title the start of something big

Reds starter Johnny Cueto fielded a ground ball as reliever Bill Bray watched on Wednesday in Goodyear, Ariz. Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Edinson Volquez have starting spots locked up.
Reds starter Johnny Cueto fielded a ground ball as reliever Bill Bray watched on Wednesday in Goodyear, Ariz. Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Edinson Volquez have starting spots locked up. AP

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Manager Dusty Baker sat back in his black office chair and recapped how the rest of the NL Central has gotten better. A lot of names are matched with new cities.

Carlos Pena and Matt Garza in Chicago. Lance Berkman in St. Louis. Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum in Milwaukee.

Baker's Cincinnati Reds? Not much to tell. The defending NL Central champions didn't splurge on off-season free agency, spending their time and money on keeping the team together. They think they've got more title runs in their young team.

"People weren't standing still," Baker said Wednesday, referring to the rest of the division. "We weren't standing still, either. We just re-signed people ... and hope through experience and time that they get better, which they should."

The Reds spent more than $150 million in the off-season on contract extensions for pitchers Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto, outfielder Jay Bruce and MVP Joey Votto. They opened camp on Wednesday with more starters than they have spots in the rotation and an everyday lineup that's pretty much set.

It's been a long time since that's been the case with Cincinnati, which ended a 15-year playoff drought last season. Usually, the Reds are trying to fill a lot of holes at this time of year.

"I see guys have come in in great shape, which to me is the No. 1 sign of determination to win," Baker said. "A lot of them are here early. They realize there's competition for jobs."

The one intangible is how the Reds will respond to their breakthrough year. They'd put together nine consecutive losing seasons and weren't expected to do much last season. The rest of the division crumbled and the Reds' young players emerged, leading them to the title. They were swept by Philadelphia in the playoffs.

Nobody is overlooking them this season.

Baker said the division title was a huge step for a team that didn't believe in itself until Bruce's ninth-inning homer clinched the title.

"The one thing you're concerned about a lot of times with a young team is: Do they realize how good they are?" Baker said. "Until they realize it or we help them realize it, then you don't think you're that good.

"Once you do it, you realize, 'Hey, man, we did it and we can be even better, and we can do it and hopefully be better for a long period of time.' The hard part is doing it the first time."

They seem well-stocked for an encore.

The rotation is overflowing. Arroyo, Cueto and Edinson Volquez started the playoff series against the Phillies and will hold down the first three spots. That leaves Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Travis Wood in a group competing for the last two spots.

The only loss in the bullpen was left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who will be replaced by lefty Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban defector blossomed in a relief role during the second half of last season, overpowering batters with a fastball that topped out at 105.

Chapman is more relaxed the second time around — he took the lead in joking with teammates in Spanish before pitchers and catchers worked out Wednesday.

Arroyo got his first playoff experience with Boston in 2004, and he knows what that can do for a young player's confidence.

"I think it will help the guys tremendously, especially since we have such a young club," Arroyo said. "It's definitely going to help us out to get back to that point. And if we can get back to that point, then people can fall back on their experience and remember what it felt like being in a stadium like Philly.

"You can look back and slow down and say, 'I don't want to make those same moves again.'"