The Reds play 31 exhibition games to ramp up veterans for Opening Day and to evaluate younger players, but a large percentage of the preparation is done on fields hidden from most fans.
There is a two-hour period before games that players work on skills that they put into practice at game speed in the afternoon. Adam Duvall can be seen working on fielding balls and making strong accurate throws.
Once minor league games start, it provides a tool for the team to get pitchers ready.
Duvall on the defensive
Adam Duvall has been an All-Star and a productive hitter, but he continues to work to improve his fielding.
RELATED: Battle for 5th starter intensifying
He hit 31 home runs and drove in 99 runs last season but what thrills him as much, if not more was leading National League outfielders in assists. Duvall threw out 15 baserunners last season, two more than teammate Billy Hamilton, who was second in the league. They actively competed against each other for the most assists.
“As an outfielder it is important, not to let runners get extra bases,” Duvall said. “Here in Cincinnati we take pride in throwing guys out and not getting the extra base.”
Duvall wants to keep the ball out of the corner to keep runners from even trying for second base, a play that doesn’t get statistically analyzed but affects the win column.
“I bust my butt down the line and try to cut that ball off,” Duvall said. “It really makes me giddy inside, when I throw that ball to second and the guy rounding first slams on the brakes and runs back to first. Taking away a hit or throwing somebody out is as gratifying as driving somebody in or hitting a home run for me. Neither is more important but both get me excited. I know it’s a good feeling for the pitcher.”
“An inspired defense is something that every pitcher wants to have behind them when they pitch,” said manger Bryan Price. “I think there’s a great pride with him and those three outfielders.”
Price looks at Duvall to be an inspiration to Jesse Winker, who is moving into the outfield mix with the Reds this season.
“I think it will make Jesse Winker a better outfielder, seeing those guys in competition to be the best defensive outfielder. You need that. You can’t be one dimensional. These guys really embrace the challenge of attaining greatness defensively. I believe Duvall when he says holding a guy to single is a thrill for him. They get in position every single pitch, anticipating where the ball is going to go when it’s hit to you.”
The Reds intend to divide playing time among Duvall, Hamilton, Scott Schebler and Winker. The Reds may also choose to carry a fifth outfielder, possibly Ben Revere or Phillop Ervin, both of whom can play all three outfield positions.
Sal Romano and Homer Bailey started minor league games the last two days, allowing Tyler Mahle and Cody Reed to start a game rather than entering the game from the bullpen.
Romano faced 23 batters in four innings, allowing three runs on nine hits, a walk and six strikeouts. Bailey pitched six innings, allowing two earned runs on seven hits, a walk with nine strikeouts.
The Reds can control the environment in minor league games.
“Any thing can happen. You saw that 16-13 game, where balls get lost in the sun or get blown into the corners that would have been normal fly balls. Your starter, who you want to throw six innings or 87 pitches, ends up going 2 1/3, throwing 61 and having to finish in the bullpen. It does not serve the same purpose, at all,” Price said. “These minor league starts are unbelievably valuable for us. We can virtually guarantee, they are going to get their six innings and 85-90 pitches.”
Scooter Gennett missed two games with a sore right shoulder but it is not a major concern.
“He’s made really good progress with it. He threw yesterday (Saturday) and today,” Price said. “We are going to DH him tomorrow. Since it’s a home game tomorrow, I can control having the DH. If every thing goes well he could play second base before the off day on Tuesday night.”
More Minor League starts
Luis Castillo, who has returned to camp after the birth of his daughter, will start a minor league game on Tuesday. Brandon Finnegan will also pitch a couple innings in the minor league camp.
“If every thing goes well, they will both pitch in a Cactus League game after that,” Price said. “Finnegan is throwing a side (session) today. If it goes well, he will throw a couple innings in the minor league game on the 20th.”
Opening Day starter?
Bailey’s next start is on Friday against Colorado. The fifth day after that is the eve of Opening Day.
“You guys get to formulate all your own thoughts,” Price said. “With our history, let’s just get to Opening Day.”