Thursday, May 04, 2006

Red-hot Reds

by Scott Silversten

Who is on first. What is on second. I Don’t Know is on Third.

I’ll say it again...Scott Hatteberg is on first, Brandon Phillips is on second and Edwin Encarnacion is on third.

It might as well be an Abbott and Costello routine, because the success of the Cincinnati Reds so far this season must be a joke. Picked by most to finish in last place in the National League Central this season, the Reds swept a two-game series from reigning division champion St. Louis earlier this week and are currently in first place with a 19-9 record.

Tuesday’s victory over the Cardinals was exactly the type of game the Reds were not supposed to be able to win. It was a pitchers duel. Dave Williams allowed just two runs over 6 2/3 innings, the bullpen was flawless the rest of the way and back-to-back homers by Encarnacion and Adam Dunn in the sixth propelled Cincinnati to a 3-2 triumph, their eighth in nine games.

While the Cincinnati pitching staff on a whole has not been stellar, it has kept the team in games and the offense has done the rest even with center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. sidelined since mid-April with a right knee injury. Behind Dunn’s power hitting and the contributions of fellow outfielder Austin Kearns, Encarnacion and shortstop Felipe Lopez, the Reds are the surprise team in the NL through the season’s first month.

And while it may be too soon to start daydreaming about a Cincinnati-Detroit World Series – it might be dubbed the “Sparky” Series after former Reds and Tigers manager Sparky Anderson – there is renewed hope in the Queen City that it could be a summer of fun after all.

In response to the surprising early success, on Tuesday it was announced by Fox Sports Ohio that 14 additional games have been added to the Reds’ 2006 TV schedule. In addition, May presents a fairly favorable schedule for Cincinnati, which throughout the month will face teams most would consider mid-level or worse in Colorado, Arizona, Washington, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs.

The Reds’ team-record 17 wins in April tied the Cardinals and Chicago White Sox for most in the majors and they also established new club marks for the season’s opening month in runs (149) and RBI (134) while falling three homers shy of the 39 that were hit in 2003.

With Cincinnati standing as baseball’s biggest surprise team thus far, the Reds have also produced the biggest individual surprise in right hander Bronson Arroyo, who after tossing a four-hit complete game to beat St. Louis, 6-1, on Monday now stands at 5-0 with a 2.06 ERA in six starts.

It was Arroyo’s second complete game this season. Entering the year, he hadn’t gone the distance since he was a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001.

The Reds’ trade for the 29-year-old Arroyo might have been the deal of the winter. Acquired from Boston for outfielder Willy Mo Pena, the man named for actor Charles Bronson has worked at least eight innings in three straight games. It is the longest such run by a Reds pitcher since 1994 and seems to support that notion that it is much easier navigating through NL lineups.

“This guy is not a fluke,” Reds manager Jerry Narrron said following Monday’s game. “He’s got a great feel for pitching. Anybody that changes speeds out there with the breaking ball like he does has a chance to be successful. He’s used to pitching to good lineups. In the American League, it’s up and down the order. You don’t get any easy outs.”

In addition to his guitar-playing skills, Arroyo also has a touch of big-game experience, having appeared in the last three postseasons as a member of the Red Sox.

“He just brings that personality of being from a winning team,” Lopez said. “He has a lot of experience, obviously, in the postseason. We’re feeding off that.”

In addition to Arroyo and Williams, the rest of the Reds’ current rotation includes Brandon Claussen, Aaron Harang and Elizardo Ramirez.



The Reds have also undergone changes off the field that should help future optimism even if the lack of talent catches up with the team as the long season progresses.

In January, ownership changed hands to a group of Cincinnatians led by Bob Castellini, who is now installed as the team’s Chief Executive Officer. And then in February, Wayne Krivsky was hired as the new General Manager, bringing three decades worth of front office experience to the franchise. Krivsky’s success as Assistant GM with the small-market Minnesota Twins in recent years made him an ideal choice.

At his introductory press conference, Krivsky made it clear that the 72-win average of the last five seasons was not good enough for a city as steeped in baseball history as Cincinnati.

“This is the beginning,” he said in the cold of February. “I’m not going to be satisfied until the day comes we’re a consistent, quality ballclub and organization, and a contender.”

Three months later, the Reds seem to be on the right track.

Scott Silversten's column appears every Thursday


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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine