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The Price is Right: Jocketty thinks Price can motivate, elevate Reds

Published 11:51pm Saturday, November 16, 2013

Jim Walker

jim.walker@irontontribune.com

 

CINCINNATI — When the Cincinnati Reds showed former manager Dusty Baker the exit at the end of the season, it left the door open for pitching coach Bryan Price.

After sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers in a key series, the Reds went 8-10 the rest of the season. The Reds were 2-6 the final week of the season including five straight losses to end the year.

They lost 6-2 at Pittsburgh in the National League Wild Card game.

The swoon was the nail in the coffin for Baker, whose team seemed to underachieve throughout his tenure.

“(Price) has the intelligence and personality skills to lead this team going forward,” said Reds’ general manager Walt Jocketty, who decided on Price after a three-hour interview session.

Price made such an impression during his interview that Jocketty didn’t speak with anyone else.

“I am who I am. I’ve been a pretty consistent personality all my life,” said Price.

Historically, former pitchers have not been successful as managers. Price doesn’t buy into the stereotype.

“It’s hard to be a successful manager. Period. I think there are some real challenges to be really good at this for a long period of time,” said Price.

“There’s an initial assumption that pitchers only understand one part of the game and that’s the defensive perspective and couldn’t connect with the players from an offensive perspective. What we’re finding out is that it’s really about relationships, surrounding yourself with good people.”

Price hired Pittsburgh hitting coach Jay Bell as the bench coach, Jeff Pico as the pitching coach and Atlanta minor league hitting instructor Don Long as the hitting coach. Long was the Pirates’ hitting coach from 2008-10.

Pico is a former major league pitcher who has spent the past 11 years in the Arizona organization. Bell and Pico were in the Diamondbacks’ organization at the same time Price was the team’s pitching coach.

“Managers don’t do everything. They don’t do all the coaching. If they’re good, I believe, they are able to designate different areas of responsibility to their staff and give them some autonomy in that. So I think that would be a strength,” said Price.

Unlike most major league managers who follow a set formula on how to manage, Price has a different philosophy, especially with how he plans to utilize the bullpen. He isn’t concerned about matching a left-handed pitcher against a left-handed hitter or a right-hander versus a right-hander.

“Any time you pitch too situationally and you spend the last two or three innings of a game trying to match up left on left, right on right, what you find is you get your guys in the bullpen up and down a lot more, they’re in a lot more games, even though it might be for a shorter period of time, and that type of usage over the course of a long season, for me, is, I would consider it a bit overuse,” said Price.

“I’ve always been pretty concerned with how much we use our bullpen, how much we get our guys up and down. Quite often these guys will get up in the bullpen and get hot and get their arms ready and they won’t come into the game.”

The Reds’ offense has proven to be inconsistent in recent years. While they will score 10 runs one game, they can only scratch one or two over the next three games.

“It’s important to use your bench. We’re going to have five guys on the bench — position players — that need to be able to contribute, be part of the teams and bring energy, supply energy when some of the regulars need a couple of days off. You have to be aware of keeping these guys sharp,” said Price.

“You have to have a feeling on what the right decision is in the moment. As a manager, you have to play everything out in advance, but you also have to have that ability to understand what the circumstances are, who’s in this particular environment and what your best match-ups are.”

A lot of criticism — and some of it rightly so — has been the team’s lack of enthusiasm and focus. There was a lack of emotion down the stretch run that irked fans. However, Price defended the players.

“I think our style of play or energy on the field was something that had a little bit of an ebb in the flow to it. Until you play a 162-game season, especially as a position player, that’s a grind. To point finger in the direction you guys didn’t work hard enough or try hard enough, I don’t think that’s the case,” said Price.

“I think creating an elevated expectation of what we need on the field on a daily basis as far as focus and preparation and energy is hugely important. It’s also the reason why you have five bench players. You can interchange and give you energy when you need it. We need to re-invest a bit in the energy, we have to be able to look at the things we don’t do quite as well and address them aggressively, not as punishment, but trying to play that game I talked about. Trying to play the perfect game. And how you do that is spending more time on the areas we don’t do quite as good.”

Still, Price has a positive attitude and said the current core of the team can remain one of the best teams in baseball. He said it will be his job to make sure the team plays to its potential.

“This is a great group. They’re really good guys and they’re really good baseball players. So, for me to be in a position to have a little bit more influence, a stronger voice with the entire group, excites me and I would love to be a part of looking at these guys at the end of the season celebrating something special,” said Price.

“I think that if you’re a teacher or leader, that’s what you look for, to provide a situation and hope to nurture something that is unforgettable, not for just the players but for the entire organization and Cincinnati fans everywhere.”

Price becomes the first manager in Major League Baseball history whose first name is Bryan. He laughed at the trivia.

“This is kind of a ‘I’m No. 1’ moment. I haven’t even managed a game and I’m already a trendsetter,” said Price with a grin.

The only trend the Reds want from Price is to win.

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