These are a few things I learned on Opening Day:
The Reds are close to a deal that would extend Brandon Phillips‘ contract through 2017. I thought the Reds may resign Joey Votto or Brandon Phillips. I never dreamed they would resign both players. While this is great news, the signings do not come without substantial risk. Ask the Cubs about Alfonso Soriano or the Giants about Barry Zito. Still, it is refreshing to see the Reds make a statement about their commitment to winning. In his recent column, Jon Heyman says Bob Castellini “has a bit of Steinbrenner in him.”
“First of all, the franchise has the capability to meet its financial challenges, even as a small-market team,” Bob Castellini said at Wednesday’s press conference. “Is it risky? No doubt. That’s the environment that we live in, especially as a small-market team.”
Aroldis Chapman‘s bullpen assignment is temporary. The Reds seem committed to giving Chapman an opportunity to start. He earned it in Spring Training. Injuries to Madson, Massett and Bray, however, have left them short of quality arms in the bullpen for now. Chapman plugged that hole on Thursday by striking out two of the three batters he faced in the eighth inning. His stuff was electric. This is not the old Aroldis Chapman. He appears to have solved the mechanical issues that hampered his ability to throw strikes. Furthermore, he is content to throw his fastball in the 94-98 range with command. Once Chapman is installed into the rotation, the Reds will have three starting pitchers with top-of-the-rotation stuff (Cueto, Latos, Chapman). This is something they did not have when they faced Philadelphia in the 2010 playoffs. In the meantime, Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo, and Homer Bailey will have more time to demonstrate why they should hold on to their roles.
Drew Stubbs is going to be more aggressive with the bunt this season. “Fans get what they wanted – – a pushed bunt single from Stubbs to start bot 2,” tweeted Mark Sheldon. I have a feeling Dusty Baker got what he wanted as well. Stubbs worked on bunting throughout Spring Training. It could become a real weapon for him in 2012.
Walt Jocketty fleeced Theo Espstein in the deal that sent Travis Wood and Dave Sappelt to the Cubs for Sean Marshall. The Reds acquired a durable lefthanded relief pitcher with a favorable contract. The Reds promptly extended Marshall’s deal making him a Red through 2015. With Madson’s injury, Marshall inherits the closer role. Neither Wood nor Sappelt made the Cubs roster out of Spring Training. The Marshall acquisition may pay big dividends for the Reds in 2012.
Scott Rolen looks healthy and poised for a big season. I recognize it only takes one hard slide or hurried throw to tweak his back or shoulder. Nonetheless, a healthy Rolen makes a big difference for this club. Rolen acknowledged, after the game, that Thursday may have been his last Reds Opening Day. “I got a little nostalgic,” Rolen said. “You never know what’s around the corner. This could be my last Opening Day. This is the last year on my contract. I tried to soak it all up. I looked up in stands and saw my parents, my brother, my family. My brother gives me a big fist. It kind of got me.”
Zack Cozart has a legitimate shot to win Rookie of the Year honors in 2012. A solid all-around player, Cozart stands to get 500+ at-bats in 2012. Following a great Spring, Cozart was 2-4 with a double and run scored on Opening Day.
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