Caravan Rolls In

Published 3:44 am Friday, January 29, 2010

BARBOURSVILLE, W.Va. — The end could determine the beginning.

The Cincinnati Reds ended last season with a 27-13 record over the final six weeks. If they can pick up at the start of the new season where they left off last year, the Reds might be able to end a streak of nine straight years of losing records.

“We just had fun the last two months of the season,” said Reds’ shortstop Paul Janish at the Reds’ Caravan stop Thursday with a visit to the Huntington Mall.

“Somebody told me we had one of the top records in all of baseball over the last two months last season. We had everyone playing well. We all enjoyed it and I felt I was a part of it.”

Janish was also part of the annual Reds’ Caravan Tour making its annual stop in the Tri-State.

The caravan included Reds’ manager Dusty Baker, 1990 World Series star and Reds’ Hall of Famer Eric Davis, broadcasters Jeff Brantley and Jim Kelch, shortstop Paul Janish, Reds’ Minor League Player of the Year Chris Heisey, and Reds’ Senior Special Assistant to the General Manager Gene Bennett of Wheelersburg.

A big reason for the Reds’ success late last season was the development of the pitching staff, especially Homer Bailey who joins mainstays Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Edison Volquez and Johnny Cueto.

Brantley — who holds the Reds single-season saves record as a former Fireman of the Year winner — said the competition among the pitchers has helped make them better.

“The biggest thing I thing we’ll see about this ball club from 2010 is a big maturity for the starting pitchers, especially early in the game and I think that in itself really helps the offense tremendously,” said Brantley who is the color announce on the Reds’ radio broadcasts.

“When you have a starting staff that goes out and puts out small numbers early in the ball game, then you let your offense relax, especially with the club’s younger players.”

Offense was a problem for the Reds last season, especially after trading sluggers Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn at the end of the 2008 season.

Baker thinks that the experience gained by not only the pitchers but every day players will pay dividends.

“My message is we’re going to be better and what that equates to is if you’re going to get better and get closer to the lead or be in the lead, that’s going to breed confidence,” said Baker.

“The young guys we have here — mixed with the veterans we have — we feel have a great chance here.”

The Reds’ pitching staff posted a 4.18 earned run average that was seventh in the National League. The bullpen was third in the league with a 3.56 ERA.

Injuries plagued the Reds last year including Harang, Volquez, first baseman Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, pitcher Mike Lincoln and All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips.

“We had a rough two-week period where everything that could go wrong went wrong,” said Baker.

“We lost Brandon for a while, we lost Votto for an extended period, we lost Volquez and we lost Lincoln. And then we re-grouped and finished strong.”

Another boost to the Reds’ organization during the off-season was the free agent signing of Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman. The left-hander has been clocked at 100 miles an hour and gained the attention of Major League Baseball scouts with his performance in the World Baseball Classic.

“I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting the young man yet, but he’s a tremendous talent,” said Baker who speaks Spanish and was a reason for Chapman signing with Cincinnati.

“Our new pitching coach Bryan Price has been spending time with him in Arizona and (Price) said he learns very quickly. He’s making the adjustments that Price is trying to teach him.”

Cincinnati is also trying to sign outfielder Jonny Gomes to a contract. Gomes joined the Reds last season and hit .267 with 20 home runs and 51 runs batted in while playing in 98 games.