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4 CINCINNATI REDS

April 06, 2009
April 06, 2009

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April 6, 2009

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4 CINCINNATI REDS

DoubleBarreled
A pair of young power hitters are being counted on to lead the team back intocontention

This is an article from the April 6, 2009 issue

FROM THE start,the race has been on. During the Reds' first intrasquad game, first basemanJoey Votto launched a monstrous home run well over the centerfield fence at EdSmith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. As he approached the dugout, where he receivedcongratulations from Jay Bruce, who was headed for the on-deck circle, Vottosmiled and said to the Reds centerfielder, "Copy that s---."

Bruce did not,flying out to leftfield, but their short major league careers have otherwisebeen reasonable facsimiles of each other, a back-and-forth game ofone-upsmanship. Both burst into the bigs in spectacular fashion (Votto hit ahomer in his first big league start, Bruce went 3 for 3 in his); both had20-homer seasons as rookies in '08 (Votto with 24, Bruce with 21); and both hadstrong springs this year (they each slugged better than .500). With that pairof potent bats in the middle of the lineup for the next several years, and anemerging core of young pitchers to complement them, the Reds are capable ofdoing something they haven't done in nine years: finish with a winning record,maybe even contend for a playoff spot.

Bruce, 22, andVotto, 25, are not only talented, they're ultracompetitive and despite theiryouth will be counted on to lead on the field and in the clubhouse. That's amajor change from their rookie seasons, when the two youngsters were so shythat they often refrained from even speaking to teammates, much less trying tolead them. "Last year I didn't feel it was my place, I kind of felteveryone was above me," Votto says. "This year I can at least introducemyself. Last year I didn't say a word to those guys for months, other thanhello."

"Thoseguys" were Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, the pillars of the Reds'clubhouse for most of this decade; both are long gone from Cincinnati, havingbeen shipped to the White Sox and the Diamondbacks, respectively, in midseasontrades last year. Votto, who hit .297 with a .506 slugging percentage, andBruce will fill their places in the middle of the lineup and be, as managerDusty Baker likes to call his "older" players, the team's"lightning rods." In between Bruce and Votto in the lineup is cleanuphitter Brandon Phillips, who though older (27) and more established willnonetheless be asked to improve as much as his younger teammates. Phillips wasa 30-30 player in 2007 but slumped to 21 home runs and 23 stolen bases lastseason, part of a down year across the board that was due in part to a brokenfinger that ended his season in early September.

Speedster WillyTaveras and his 68 stolen bases and excellent glove were added from Colorado,but his .308 on-base percentage may not be sufficient to jump-start the lineup.Jerry Hairston, whose .427 OBP as a leadoff man was second in the league, isthe man at the top of the order who would afford more RBI chances for thetriumvirate of Votto, Phillips and Bruce.

For the Reds tobe a serious contender, the pitching staff will have to make significantimprovements from its lackluster performance of a year ago, when it ranked 13thin the NL in ERA (4.55), 14th in opponents' batting average (.275) and last inhome runs allowed (201). Familiarity will help. Baker entered his debut seasonas Reds manager last year "knowing nothing about [Edinson] Volquez and evenless about [Johnny] Cueto." Now that Volquez, an All-Star who went 17--6with a 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts, and Cueto, who struck out 10 Diamondbacksin his major league debut last April, have a full season under their belts,Baker is counting on them to fill out a rotation that includes Aaron Harang andBronson Arroyo, veterans who still miss plenty of bats.

Harang and Arroyoare two of only eight players on the 40-man roster who will be 30 or older onOpening Day. Such a large group of young talent is sure to struggle at times,so G.M. Walt Jocketty has just three rules for his team: stay healthy, play upto capability and cut down on mistakes. That goes double for Bruce and Votto,who will be asking their teammates—now that they are comfortable enough tospeak up—to follow their lead.

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

The Reds' bigoff-season move was bringing in Willy Taveras, 27, to bat leadoff and playcenterfield for $6.25 million over two seasons. It's a mistake: Taveras hasfinished with an acceptable on-base percentage for a leadoff man once in hisfour seasons, and his career mark of .331 isn't enough to warrant a spot at thetop of a lineup. All the stolen bases in the world (Taveras had 68 with theRockies last year) can't make up for making right turns at first base more thantwo thirds of the time. Cincinnati's top pick in 2006, 24-year-old Drew Stubbs(left), is likely to hit for a lower average than Taveras but have a higher OBP(.367 in three minor league seasons) and a much higher slugging percentagewhile playing average defense in center and even stealing some bases (27 inTriple A in '08).

THE NUMBERS

LIE
3.81

ERA of the Reds'bullpen last season, third lowest in the National League. Those relievers,however, finished last in batting average against (.269) and tied for 13th infewest home runs allowed (59) and in saves (34). The numbers don't augur wellfor a pitching staff whose starters last year were in the bottom half of theleague in innings per start (5.66) and finished the year with only two completegames.

The Lineup
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

Manager DustyBaker
SECOND SEASON WITH REDS

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

WILLY TAVERAS [NEW ACQUISITION]CF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R81.25112668
ALEX GONZALEZ*SS
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R174.27216550
JOEY VOTTO1B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R47.29724847
BRANDON PHILLIPS2B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R21.261217823
JAY BRUCERF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L104.25421524
EDWIN ENCARNACION3B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R118.25126681
CHRIS DICKERSONLF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L179.3046155
RAMON HERNANDEZ [NEW ACQUISITION]C
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R147.25715650
BENCH
JEFF KEPPINGERIF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R329.2663433
JERRY HAIRSTONOF-IF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R275.32663615
JONNY GOMES [NEW ACQUISITION]OF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R347.1828218

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHERPVRWLK/9WHIPERA
RHEdinson Volquez291769.51.333.21
RHAaron Harang1236177.51.384.78
RHBronson Arroyo9315117.31.444.77
RHJohnny Cueto1309148.21.414.81
RHMicah Owings [NEW ACQUISITION]156697.51.395.95
BULLPEN
PITCHERPVRWSVK/9WHIPERA
RHFrancisco Cordero3753410.01.413.33
RHDavid Weathers236406.01.533.25
LHArthur Rhodes [NEW ACQUISITION]2584210.11.232.04

NEWACQUISITION
*2007 stats
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
May 20, 1996

Of course, having Aunt Bee as your team's owner hasits advantages. For instance, Riverfront's most expensive seat is $11.50,cheapest in the majors. Marge Schott still charges only $1 for a hot dog. Shedoes not often meddle in player deals, mostly because she has no real interestin baseball. Night after night she sits alone in her vast luxury box with justher telephone and her Saint Bernard, Schottzie, not paying much attention tothe game, waiting for some high-ranking employee to show up at the door andtake Schottzie for a walk. Afterward there's always a report. "Tinkle orpoo?" she will ask. "Just tinkle," the director of marketing orsome other front-office type will answer sheepishly.
—RICK REILLY

For free access to all Reds stories and photographsfrom the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTOBRAD MANGINBOYS TO MEN Votto (left) and Bruce enter their second big league season with veteran responsibilities.PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON (STUBBS)PHOTO