Monday, April 6, 2015

Reliever Gregg finds trouble in Reds debut

With one of the best Reds bullpen combinations -- the "Nasty Boys" of Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers -- on hand to take part in Opening Day, the current bullpen couldn't protect a lead vs. the Pirates.
Kevin Gregg, a free-agent signing in February, saw hard contact from all four batters he faced during his debut in the eighth inning. Gregg inherited a 2-0 lead from ace Johnny Cueto but lost it on Andrew McCutchen's game-tying two-run home run to center field. The Reds would go on to win the game, 5-2.
A non-roster player in camp, Gregg earned a spot on the club with a solid spring, but he gave up four runs and four hits in his final tuneup on Saturday vs. the Blue Jays. Manager Bryan Price didn't expect to get what he saw on Monday.
"I'm always surprised because you don't anticipate guys going in there and scuffling, but it's part of the game," Price said. "We're trying to define our bullpen [roles] as best as possible. The only way to do that is for these guys to go out and pitch."
Gregg started out against pinch-hitter Andrew Lambo and endured a 13-pitch duel with eight two-strike fouls -- including one that narrowly missed the right-field foul pole. It ended with a warning track drive to center field caught by Billy Hamilton.
Josh Harrison followed with a liner to left field that fell in front of Marlon Byrd.Gregory Polanco then hit a drive to left field that Byrd was able to run down with a nice leaping catch before the warning track. But McCutchen was next with a first-pitch homer to center field that tied the game.
"If you go back and look at the location of the pitch, you'll see it wasn't located that bad. They were obviously jumping on my stuff early," Gregg said.
Manny Parra replaced Gregg and gave up a single to his one batter, Neil WalkerJumbo Diaz finished the inning by striking out Starling Marte. The Reds bullpen' struggles were a big issue for the club in 2014, and the relievers will need to be better this season to help Cincinnati contend this year.
Gregg was picked up by Todd Frazier's three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth. Aroldis Chapman faced three batters and got the save, with two strikeouts.
"It was cool to see. The boys picked me up," Gregg said.

'Nasty Boys' lead Reds' Opening Day parade

 Inside Great American Ball Park, the Reds have Opening Day festivities that have the familiar vibe -- full-team pregame introductions, ceremonial first pitches and lots of pomp and circumstance.
Outside the stadium, Cincinnati does Opening Day like no other place in the country. It's certainly the only place where there is a parade before the game. The 96th Findlay Market Opening Day Parade -- which traveled from the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood to downtown -- featured the trio of relievers known as "The Nasty Boys" doing grand marshal duty in Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers. It also included current players in Raisel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani.
"If I was out there at the parade and stuff, I'd get to see a little more action," Reds third baseman Todd Frazier said. "My family has told me how crazy it is out there. It's like a holiday. Everybody stops what they are doing and come to Opening Day in Cincinnati. It's a joyous time."
Inside the stadium, the grand marshals and the parade chairman presented Reds manager Bryan Price with a fruit basket.
Monday's clash with the Pirates marked the 139th Opening Day game for the Reds. As baseball's first professional team, Cincinnati is usually granted the privilege of starting every season at home.
This was the 13th opener at Great American Ball Park, which opened in 2003.
"I've been in different organizations and different cities and teams. Here, it's like we've won the World Series already," Reds catcher Brayan Pena said. "It's something special. I notice that everybody has been counting down the days before Opening Day. It's so exciting. It's beautiful to see how much they know about our team and our team tradition. The fans respect that."
Some of the highlights inside the stadium from Monday's opener:
• Charlton, Dibble and Myers threw out simultaneous first pitches to current Reds Kristopher NegronBrennan Boesch and Pena.
• There was a ceremony that honored wounded veterans with Sen. Rob Portman, Rep. Brad Wenstrup and former Reds player Ron Oester.
• The Rosie Reds woman's support club gave a special plaque to both team's managers -- Clint Hurdle of the Pirates and Price from the Reds.
• There was a moment of silence to honor Helen DeCourcy Williams, who died in January at the age of 93. Williams was the wife of former Reds owner William Williams, and the mother of a current member of the ownership, Tom Williams.
• Marlana VanHoose from Denver, Ky., sang the national anthem. VanHoose was born with cytomegalovirus (CMV), is blind and was once featured on ESPN's E:60 program.

Seeking sac fly, Frazier hits 3-run blast

When Todd Frazier stepped to the plate against the Pirates with runners on the corners in the eighth inning of a tie game on Monday, the Reds third baseman did not anticipate the frenzy he would create a few moments later.
"I was looking for a sacrifice fly," Frazier said.
Instead, Frazier delivered the game-winning three-run home run for a 5-2 Reds win over Pittsburgh on Opening Day at Great American Ball Park. Facing lefty reliever Tony Watson, he lifted a 1-1 pitch into the left-field upper deck seats.
"I was looking for a ball up," Frazier said. "When Billy [Hamilton] stole [third base], I actually saw his second pitch. It was a changeup, so I saw both pitches. He threw all fastballs until that last pitch to me -- the pitch before I hit the home run. I said, 'He might try to come in. He's been coming in on batters.' I got one out over a little bit and did a little more. It was one of those no-doubters. You feel it off the bat, perfect."
As 43,633 fans jumped on their feet and screamed, Frazier flipped his bat in excitement.
"Just emotion. Nothing to it, just excitement," Frazier said. "I've been here for four years now. Maybe if I have an opportunity, I guess I can do it if I hit it like that."
The homer came just a half-inning after the Reds' bullpen blew ace Johnny Cueto's 2-0 lead as Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer off Kevin Gregg.
"It was a big lift," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Watson is tremendous. That guy is a great pitcher. The at-bat by Billy … and then Joey [Votto] hanging in there on a 3-2 pitch and smoking it to left really set the table for Todd. I was hoping for a sacrifice fly and he ended up doing quite a bit more. Especially on Opening Day, it was a big moment for sure."

Cueto dedicates dazzling Opening Day start to mom

 If this season is going to indeed be Johnny Cueto's final lap with the Reds, the ace got off to a flying start.
A 20-game winner and National League Cy Young Award runner-up last year, Cueto dazzled in his 2015 debut on Opening Day. In seven scoreless innings, he gave up four hits and one walk with 10 strikeouts while throwing 100 pitches, 70 for strikes. The Reds went on to defeat the Pirates, 5-2.
"All of my pitches were low. I was able to control that. I felt really well. Everything that I did was working the way I wanted," Cueto said via translator Tomas Vera.
Now in his contract year, Cueto had set a deadline for Monday to get an extension done or he would explore what should be a lucrative free-agent market after the season. Talks never got into the serious phase, however. But Cueto had more pressing things on his mind.
"I want to dedicate everything I do to my mom," Cueto said. "I talked to her today and she is doing great. She's doing outstanding. This game was for her."
Cueto had to leave Spring Training for over a week to tend to his mother, Cristina, who needed open-heart surgery in the Dominican Republic. He missed one start but was able to stay on track for the season.
Entering the game needing five strikeouts to reach 1,000 for his career, Cueto hit that plateau rather quickly vs. the Pirates. By striking out the side in the top of the third, Cueto reached the milestone figure. No. 1,000 came whenGregory Polanco looked at a called strike to end the inning while leavingJosh Harrison stranded on second base.
The Reds' Opening Day record for strikeouts is 12, by Gary Nolan in 1969. During the game, Cueto passed Tom Browning and Jim O'Toole, respectively, to take 10th on the club's all-time list for strikeouts with 1,005.
Cueto benefitted from some nice defense, including a diving catch by third baseman Todd Frazier to rob Andrew McCutchen of extra bases in the first inning.
"It was exciting to watch him work fast," Frazier said of Cueto. "On defense, we love to work fast. You saw how we played. When you're working fast, there are better opportunities for us to get those balls that are in the hole, down the line or up in the air."
Throughout the day, Cueto was mixing his delivery and sometimes shortened it while eliminating his well-known body twist -- even when not in the stretch position.
"I'm always going to have something different," Cueto said. "It's how I have fun. I'm going to be creating new things."
The biggest threat to Cueto's day proved to be the weather, but he overcame that as well. A 35-minute rain delay came before the top of the sixth, but he notched four of his strikeouts after returning.
"He weathered the rain delay, came back out and threw beautifully," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He had the full mix working. He had the full turn. He had the abbreviated windup. He had command. It seemed like he and [catcher] Devin [Mesoraco] were on the same page and moved back and forth. He never got himself really in a lot of trouble. I didn't anticipate him being that sharp."

Cole looks to keep Bucs from 0-2 start vs. Reds

Young Pittsburgh right-hander Gerrit Cole gets an early chance to reaffirm his early reputation as a stopper when the Pirates and Reds continue their season-opening series on Wednesday night at 7:10 p.m. ET following Tuesday's off-day. Cole, who will be matched against Cincinnati right-hander Mike Leake, is tasked with avoiding the Bucs' first 0-2 start since 2006, when they went 0-6 out of the gate. In Cole's first season-and-a-half in the Majors, 11 of his 21 wins have followed losses.
Things to know about this game
• The Pirates have performed well in games following scheduled off-days, since manager Clint Hurdle made it a project: 10-6 in 2014, and 22-11 the last two seasons.
• Leake has not been handed a loss vs. the Pirates since May 5, 2012, and he has a 5-0 record and 3.42 ERA in the last 13 games he started against them. He was 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA in five 2014 starts vs. Pittsburgh, but the Reds dropped all four of his no-decisions.
• Jay Bruce was in the six-hole, hitting behind Marlon Byrd, in the Reds' batting order Monday against left-hander Francisco Liriano, and the two will swap slots for the righty Cole.

Watson unhappy with execution on crucial pitch

 In a very roundabout way, Pirates reliever Tony Watson had just testified for his craft, for the everyday brilliance of Major League pitchers.
Late in Monday's Opening Day affair, Todd Frazier had absolutely destroyed a pitch from Watson, sending it fast and high and far over Great American Ball Park's upper-deck railing to lead the Reds to a 5-2 win.
"Bad execution. Left the pitch in the middle, and I paid for it," Watson said.
"He missed his location. Wanted to go up and in, and it came back over the middle part of the plate," manager Clint Hurdle said.
Here is the point, however: Frazier just showed what big league hitters do to mistakes; and they relatively rarely get to do it, because the Watsons keep them from doing it.
"I didn't execute the pitch. It wasn't where I wanted it to be," Watson said. "Just have to get back on the horse Wednesday. There are 161 more of these. We'll put it behind us and show up and get a W."
For Frazier to hit a three-run homer, there obviously had to be two men already on base: Billy Hamilton had dribbled a single up the middle, then Joey Vottowent opposite-field for another single. Add Frazier, and that's three men reaching base against Watson --- one fewer than in all of Spring Training, when in eight scoreless appearances he gave up only three hits and one walk while striking out 11.
Hurdle shrugged off the two men on base for Frazier's winner.
"A ground ball through the middle of the infield [on Hamilton's single]. And we thought we struck out Votto," said Hurdle, alluding to a two-strike checked swing that got the safe sign from third-base umpire James Hoye.
"Did I think I had Votto? You're asking the wrong guy," Watson said. "I have the wrong angle. The umpire said, 'No,' so you move on -- and he got me on the next pitch.
"It's tough, definitely. Opening Day, we got out of the chute good, fought back on the huge [Andrew McCutchen] homer. Then I give up three to put us down, with [Reds closer Aroldis] Chapman coming behind me."

Despite out, Lambo chalks up at-bat as a win

The Pirates' Andrews got the Bucs even briefly, but very dramatically, in Monday's Opening Day spectacular with the Reds in front of a record crowd (43,633) at Great American Ball Park.
Andrew Lambo first jabbed Reds reliever Kevin Gregg -- 13 times to be precise, his pinch-hit at-bat of that many pitches including eight two-strike fouls.
Andrew McCutchen then landed the haymaker -- or at least tiemaker -- with a two-run homer with two outs in the eighth that crafted a 2-2 deadlock. ThenTodd Frazier got in the last word, with his three-run blow in the bottom of the inning that gave Cincinnati the 5-2 win.
"[Gregg] threw everything he had at him -- hard, soft, in and out, up and down -- and [Lambo] battled," said manager Clint Hurdle, whose last-day decision to add the youngster to his bench paid immediate dividends. "He was driving the ball well ... really a professional at-bat."
"Absolutely, I feel like I won that at-bat," said Lambo, who ended it by driving Gregg's 13th pitch deep to center, where it was caught by Billy Hamilton. "Everybody is trying to feed off each other, trying to have good quality at-bats and pass the torch to somebody else."
Lambo appeared to be a goner early in the sequence, when he lifted a foul just behind the plate. Catcher Devin Mesoraco trailed the ball as if sure of having a play ... but it kept carrying, into the seats.
Did that close call suggest to Lambo that something good might happen?
"I don't know," he smiled, unable to recall any specific foul. "I fouled about 20 off, not really looking where they were going. Just trying to put a good swing on a fastball and get the boys going a little bit. I thought I got it [on the drive to center], but guess I didn't."
"I got ahead of him and was able to throw some pitches in, and some pitches away in the dirt," Gregg said. "He fouled off a good fastball down and away also. It was one of those battle at-bats for me. I finally got him out."
But ...
"And then Cutch had that beautiful swing to right-center," Lambo said. "I know I won it right there."

Harrison gets first Opening Day start in hometown

 Professional athletes are renowned for being too focused on their daily responsibilities to stop and smell the roses. However, Josh Harrison had to take a moment to get a sniff of this big bouquet.
The product of Cincinnati's Princeton High School had grown up certainly aware of what a huge deal Opening Day is in his hometown. Until very recently, the Reds had the honor of hosting the first game of every baseball season, homage to the first professional nine, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.
So Harrison establishes himself as a Major League regular, as a National League All-Star and when it was time for him to be in the starting lineup on Opening Day for the first time game of his career ... it happened in Cincinnati.
"It's pretty special," Harrison said. "Especially to have my first Opening Day in front of my family. I didn't have a chance to go to Opening Days, because I was usually playing in my own games.
"So at the time I didn't really pay much attention to it. Now, I understand the history of it all. My family has a better grasp of the context, and I know they're very excited."

Clutch blast from McCutchen not enough

 A three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning byTodd Frazier lifted the Reds to a 5-2 Opening Day victory on Monday at Great American Ball Park.
It was a 2-2 game in the eighth when Cincinnati got one-out singles from Billy Hamilton and Joey Votto against lefty reliever Tony Watson. After Hamilton stole third base, Frazier tattooed Watson's 1-1 pitch into the left-field upper deck that sent the sold-out crowd of 43,633 fans into a frenzy.
"It's really exciting," Frazier said. "We gave up two runs that inning and you saw the resilience we had and guys picking each other up."
Andrew McCutchen had tied the game in the top of the eighth with a two-run homer off reliever Kevin Gregg.
Reds ace Johnny Cueto gave up four hits and one walk over his seven innings while striking out 10 during his fourth straight Opening Day start. Pirates starter Francisco Liriano finished with two earned runs, two hits and three walks over his seven innings, with seven strikeouts. The game included a 35-minute rain delay before the top of the sixth inning, but both Cueto and Liriano were able to continue.
Cueto in command: Cueto's 10 strikeouts set a personal Opening Day high, and included career strikeout No. 1,000 in the third inning. The Reds' Opening Day record for strikeouts is 12, by Gary Nolan in 1969. Cueto's last three hits allowed during the afternoon all came with two outs. Perhaps his biggest inning came following the delay when he struck out his first two batters in the sixth. After McCutchen's single up the middle, Neil Walker popped out, getting Cueto out of the inning with only 78 pitches. He finished with 100 pitches, 70 for strikes.
"He weathered rain delay, came back out and threw beautifully," Reds manager Bryan Price said. More »
Liriano's extraordinary outing: They say Opening Day is special, and it certainly was in Liriano's case. The first run against him scored on his own balk -- only his fourth such infraction since the end of the 2010 season. The second run came on a home run by the lefty hitting Jay Bruce; Liriano had gone through the entire 2013 season without allowing a home run to a left-handed hitter.
"He started his delivery and stopped," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of the balk that allowed Hamilton to walk in from third base in the third inning. "They had agreed on the pitch [to Frazier] but disagreed on the location, and instead of just shaking [catcher Francisco Cervelli off], he kinda glitched."
Lambo sets the stage: The box score has Andrew Lambo's contribution as an ineffective pinch-hitter. But, oh, what an 0-for-1 it was. The lefty hitter, the Bucs' 25th man who crashed the roster on the last preseason day, dragged Gregg through a 13-pitch at-bat leading off the eighth that included eight two-strike fouls and ended with a drive to the base of the center-field wall that was caught by Hamilton.
Gregg rocked in Reds debut: Following the Lambo showdown, Gregg gave up three more very hard-hit balls over his next three batters. Following Josh Harrison's lined single to left field, Reds left fielder Marlon Byrd made a very nice run toward the wall and a leaping catch at the warning track to temporarily save Gregg and Cincinnati's 2-0 lead. On the very next pitch, however, McCutchen hit a no-doubt shot to center field for the game-tying two-run homer. Manny Parra replaced Gregg and gave up a Walker single beforeJumbo Diaz struck out Starling Marte to end the inning, which earned him the victory -- the first of his career.
"As happy as I am to see it, I'm almost as happy when it's over." -- Hurdle, on the pleasure, and distractions, of Opening Day.
Since the start of the 2014 season, Watson has a 1.12 ERA (nine earned runs in 72 1/3 innings) in ballparks not called Great American. In Cincinnati over that stretch, he has allowed eight earned runs in six innings (12.00 ERA).
Pirates: Gerrit Cole gets the ball as the Pirates try to square their season-opening series with the Reds on Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Cole's final 2014 start came in Great American Ball Park, and he fanned a career-high 12 in seven innings without issuing a walk.
Reds: Following Tuesday's off-day, Mike Leake will start on Wednesday vs. Pittsburgh. The Reds were 1-4 vs. the Pirates last season when Leake started, but he was 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA in those games.

Mariners looking to go deep into 2015 season

The Mariners have the marquis attractions.
They have Felix Hernandez. They have Robinson Cano. They have Nelson Cruz.
There is, however, more to the Mariners than that.
There is depth, and that, as much as the superstars, is why the Mariners have become more than a trendy pick to click in the American League West this season.
"There's a different feeling around this team," said third baseman Kyle Seager.
Seattle is only one game into the 162-game marathon that is the regular season. It was, however, a glimpse at why the Mariners, a team that a year ago came up one victory shy in its bid for a postseason invite for the first time since 2001, have created such a positive vibe of what lies ahead in '15.
Oh, there was King Felix, wheeling and dealing for seven overpowering innings in a 4-1 victory against the defending AL West champion Angels, rebounding from a first-inning home run by defending AL MVP Mike Trout to limit the Angels to just one other hit -- an Erick Aybar leadoff single in the fifth -- and strike out Trout the two other times Hernandez faced him in seven innings.
There, however, also was Seth Smith, the man who lives to live under the radar, making his Mariners debut by ruining the day for Angels starter Jered Weaver by going 3-for-3 with two doubles, a triple, two RBIs and a run scored.
Oh, and then getting pinch-hit for in the seventh when lefty Cesar Ramos took over for Weaver.
No big deal, said Smith.
"It's the way it is," he said. "This isn't the first time I've been in that situation. I don't make the decision on that. I play when they tell me to play and when they tell me not to play I don't play."
Smith was that guy called up for a September glimpse by the Rockies back in 2007, going 5-for-7 and scoring four runs during a September run that saw the Rockies win 14 of their final 15 regular season games. That earned him a spot on the postseason roster when Colorado swept Philadelphia and Arizona en route to the only World Series appearance in franchise history.
Oh, and Smith was 3-for-6 with two runs scored and two RBIs in a pinch-hit role that postseason.
Smith has dealt with being "that other guy" ever since his college football days at Mississippi, where he was the backup to quarterback Eli Manning, and never did take a snap from center.
"I like it that way," Smith said with a big smile. "I don't like doing interviews."
Smith does, however, know how to play the game, and that's why the Mariners made the offseason acquisition to get him from the Padres.
This is a team that brought credibility a year ago with the signing of Cano to a 10-year contract, and then filled a huge hole in the middle of the lineup for a right-handed bat this past winter by signing free agent Cruz, who led the Majors with 40 home runs last season with the Orioles.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, however, did more than shop for star attractions. He knew that the club needed depth to contend, and found it with the likes of the left-handed-hitting Smith, and the right-handed bats ofJustin Ruggiano and Rickie Weeks.
Smith figures to platoon our in right field with Ruggiano while Weeks, a second baseman with the Brewers, is being asked to share time in left field withDustin Ackley and first base with Logan Morrison.
And the Mariners?
They are being asked to rekindle the excitement that their fans felt in that seven-year stretch from 1995-2001 when they made the only four postseason appearances in franchise history, including a 116-win regular season in '01.
"We know we have to prove something," Cano said. "We have to go out with a mind to win and embrace that [expectation]. It is what the game is about.
``To go out and play 162 games and be happy to be here makes no sense. We have to prepare ourselves to play 180 games."
That's what the Mariners have done. Their youthful core has responded well to efforts from veterans who have had that October experience, like Cano, a postseason participant in seven of his nine seasons with the Yankees, and Cruz, a postseason visitor four of the last five seasons.
"[Cruz] has been in big situations," Cano said. "He's a guy who is going to help the young tickets, teach them how to play the game and what to do in situations. It's the way I learned in New York.
"This game is not about yourself, it's about the team. It's about helping each other out."
And it's a message the young Mariners understand.
They know what the public expects.
They also know what they have to do.
"We have to take it day by day," Seager said.