By Kyle Lovern
First year Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price has some different philosophies than Dusty Baker, and diehard fans may be pleased with some of these ideas.
Price replaces Baker, who had been at the Reds’ helm for six years.
Price was hired Oct. 22 as the 61st manager in Reds history, replacing Dusty Baker. Price had served as Cincinnati’s pitching coach the previous four seasons. He also had served as pitching coach with the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Reds performed well under Baker with three playoff appearances, but failed to advance to the next round. Last year, Cincinnati was 90-72 and third place in NL Central behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Many Reds’ fans grew weary of Baker and were hoping for a change, especially after a one game Wildcard playoff loss to rival Pittsburgh.
Price has never been a manager at any level of baseball, not even in the minor leagues. However, he was credited with turning the pitching staff around for the Reds and other teams, like Arizona.
Price said he didn’t expect to become the manager of the Reds, but that’s the way things worked out. “I wasn’t even sure it was something I wanted to do a few years ago,” Price said. “Over the last couple of years I thought if I were going to do it, I needed to do it now and not wait until I’m 55 or 60.”
“I really embrace this opportunity,” Price said. “In my four years in Cincinnati we went to the playoffs three times. That speaks a lot of what Bob Castellini and the Reds organization is doing.”
“I didn’t anticipate Dusty being removed from his position, but I understand the responsibility of taking over such a talented team,” Price stressed. “But, don’t forget, we played most of the year without Ryan Ludwick and others.”
Price might try a few minor tweaks with the lineup. For one thing, he doesn’t believe as much in the lefty-righty platooning.
“I’m not as much of a matchup type of guy,” Price said. “When you have talent in your bullpen, I don’t think there is the same need to match a lefthander against a left-handed batter.”
“I also don’t think you have to put a lineup together that separates your left-handed hitters,” Price added. “I think we need to focus on our fundamentals to get things like our base running better and a few things of that nature.”
Most Reds fans know that Baker would not usually bat Joey Votto and Jay Bruce back-to-back because both were left-handed hitters. Baker moved Brandon Phillips from leadoff to cleanup to put a right-hander in between the two lefties, after Ludwick was injured sliding head-first in the first game of the season.
Bruce led the team in RBIs last year, while Votto’s RBI numbers were down.
As for closer Aroldis Chapman, Price has changed his mind from this time last year.
“It’s funny because this time last year I was probably the loudest among those Reds’ personnel of being in the corner to make him a starting pitcher,” Price said of the fire-balling lefthander. “The fact that he was a young, left-handed pitcher, I thought we needed to find out whether we should use him as a starter.”
“But, we ended up keeping him in the bullpen and used him as a closer,” Price added. “My opinion now – with one more year of being around him – is that his temperament, demeanor and skill set are better suited for where he is at.”
“We used him at just over 60 innings last year,” Price said. “I think we can increase his workload. There are times I think we can get him in games earlier.”
Price said he might use Chapman in both the 8th and 9th innings at times this season. If he needs a day off, he has Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall back, both spent time on the disabled list last year. “We’re going to have some other guys down there (in the bullpen) that are capable of coming in and closing out a game.”
“Right now we have a bounty of pitchers in the bullpen,” Price added.
Price said the Reds only had one pitcher, J.J. Hoover, who was close to 70 appearances at 69. He said he had never been with a team that didn’t have at least two relief pitchers with over 70 appearances out of the bullpen.
Price was also asked about an issue that came up during the season last year with all-star second baseman Brandon Phillips over his contract.
Price also mentioned the acquisition of Robert Stephenson, a big left-handed starting pitcher acquired in the off season. He said Stephenson gives the Reds depth at that position.
“That issue came up after an article that came out last year concerning his contract negotiations and about the ownership, general manager and front office,” Price said. “It’s one of those things that once it came out, it seemed pretty awkward. It’s not good to come out in the media and complain and disenfranchise yourself with the people you work with and for.”
“I think to the credit with all parties, they were able to get together in the off season and understand that Brandon loves being with the Reds. The fans really embrace him and he is a terrific player. We want him to be in Cincinnati. But, we want him to appreciate what he has in Cincinnati and the great following he has from the fans,” Price said.
“So I don’t think it is going to be a problem,” Price said. “It’s something you have to tip your hat to Walt (Jocketty) and move past it. He is one of the better players at his position and playing for the Reds.”
As far as his lineup for this season, Price said he has some decisions to make. Number one, is Billy Hamilton ready to be an everyday player as a leadoff hitter and center fielder?
“We have some decisions to make. Taking our roster as it is today, beyond Billy, we need to decide where Brandon will hit. Is he best suited batting second or hitting toward the middle – or protecting Jay in the five hole? There are a lot of options with Brandon because he can do a lot of things.”
“I do know there will be a lot of times where Jay (Bruce) will be batting 4th behind Joey at cleanup and Ryan (Ludwick) hitting 5th, or, Brandon can hit 5th.”
Price said the Reds need to get production out of those spots in the lineup and that they did not get that at times last season.
He said he hopes to get more from Devin Mesaroco and Todd Frazier in the bottom of the lineup. “There is a lot of room for improvement,” Price said.
The Reds have a new hitting coach in Don Long, and Price thinks he will make a big difference. Jeff Pico is the new pitching coach. Steve Smith will be the new third base coach and Jay Bell a new bench coach.
The pitching staff comes back in place, probably minus Bronson Arroyo, who is a free agent. They’ve also added a few players and some backups.
Price feels like the team is in place, barring any injuries.
Price said he “believes the game is playing the game the right way is black and white,” when asked if he was a player’s coach or more of a disciplinarian.
“You can’t take days off. If you feel like you’re losing energy at a certain position, then you need to plug someone in there to get the job done,” Price stressed. “I do know I want people to come to the ballpark and be a part of the Reds. I want them to buy into the vision and focus of our team and organization. In order to do that you can’t be so disciplinarian that players don’t’ want to come to the ballpark. That’s never really been my style, but at the same time, if they’re not getting it done we have to hold player accountable. The best thing is to put someone in the game that is chomping at the bit to get in the game.”
Cincinnati hopes Price is right in 2014
(Kyle Lovern is the Sports Editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-235-4242, ext. 33 or Twitter @KyleLovern)