Finally, the burning question that’s clouded spring training since the Cincinnati Reds arrived here has been resolved.
But even though the team’s braintrust has settled on Aroldis Chapman as its closer, there are still plenty of names on the white board in manager Dusty Baker’s office that don’t have defined roles.
The bullpen is stronger, for certain. But it’s by no means settled.
On Saturday, before the Reds lost to the Rangers 6-2 at Goodyear Ballpark, Baker said he’s still working through a number of decisions, some that had been hinging on the Chapman verdict.
“One of the problems was going to be if (Jonathan) Broxton was going to be the closer, who was gonna take Broxton’s place at the end of the game? So that’s been settled,” Baker said. “Now there’s competition for the middle part of the game. Who’s your long man gonna be?”
Among those in the mix for a steady diet of work is Sam LeCure, who has made over 100 appearances for the Reds in the last three seasons. His earned run average has dipped each season, all the way down to last year’s 3.14 mark.
In five of LeCure’s outings this spring, he’s kept the opponent off the board. And he’s only surrendered three hits in his last seven innings, dating back to a two-inning showing against Team Canada on March 6.
“I call him the minuteman,” Baker said LeCure. “He only needs about a minute and he’s ready to pitch. He can do everything.”
LeCure proved his versatility in the playoffs last season, coming in after Johnny Cueto’s injury in Game 1 of the NLDS and earning a victory. LeCure still has competition for the remaining slots in the bullpen, but Baker has seen plenty from the former fourth-round pick.
“I hate to pitch him just long. He can come in and get you an out, make a spot start like he did in the playoffs,” Baker said. “How many people can come in on two-minute’s notice? Everybody can’t do that.”
Choo chugs back: Before some mysterious back spasms kept him from the lineup, new starting center fielder Shin-Soo Choo was proving to Baker he could easily handle the leadoff duties.
On Saturday, Choo returned to the top slot in the order, and Baker feels the remaining week should be enough to get the former Indian ready for Opening Day.
“He was rolling before he got hurt. We’ve still got time to get him sharp again,” Baker said. “We just have to be careful not to overextend him and have it happen again. That’s the fine line between trying to get him ready and when are you pushing him.
“I was wondering about him before we got him. Usually, you’re worried about a guy being lazy, but this guy’s the opposite.”
Game of strategy: What’s left for the Reds as they head into their final seven exhibition games? A more realistic game experience, with Baker subbing like he might once the season opens against the Los Angeles Angels on April 1.
“We’re already playing better. Maybe pinch-hit some guys where I’d ordinarily use them during the season. Maybe double-switch. As much game simulation as you can,” Baker said. “Maybe hit-and-run, maybe bunting some. Now that I’ve got a pretty good idea what most guys can do.”
In terms of cuts, the only positions outside the bullpen still in competition are the backup catcher’s slot (Devin Mesoraco or Miguel Olivo) and the untility infielder’s spot (Jason Donald, Emmanuel Burriss or Cesar Izturis). Baker said he’s not sure when those cuts will be made.
“I don’t know. If I knew, it wouldn’t go down to the wire. That’s why it’s called the tough cuts, the last cuts,” Baker said.
Extra bases: In an interesting matchup between stars, Yu Darvish fooled Joey Votto with an off-speed pitch during the first inning Saturday. Votto looked back at home-plate umpire Mike DiMuro and said something before focusing in for the next pitch. After an 0-2 delivery was low, Darvish tried the same off-speed pitch, but this time Votto was waiting. The Reds slugger smashed the pitch over the right-center fence, a seating berm, a walkway, and into a parking lot behind the stadium. It was Votto’s third homer of the spring. … Bronson Arroyo is expected to start as a two-game set with the Rangers closes Sunday (4:05 p.m. EST). Also, J.J. Hoover is slated to see some time on the hill as he continues to battle for one of the remaining spots in the bullpen. Hoover worked in a contest on Friday for Double-A Bakersfield, but during his last two outings with the Reds ‘A’ squads, he’s struck out all seven batters he’s faced.