Last year’s 2 worst teams meet in 2016 opener
CINCINNATI (AP) — Lou Piniella will wave to fans from the back of a car while serving as grand marshal of the annual opening day parade. He’ll throw a ceremonial pitch at Great American Ball Park, reminding the wind-brushed fans of the Cincinnati Reds’ last glory year in 1990.
And then they’ll settle in and get a reality check as the NL’s two worst teams of 2015 open the season together.
The Philadelphia Phillies went 63-99, the NL’s worst mark and their worst finish since 1969. The Reds were right behind at 64-98, their poorest mark since 1982 and the third-worst in franchise history.
Both teams went into an all-out rebuilding. Both are wondering if they’ve bottomed out and how long it will take before they can hold their own.
“We haven’t had a lot of great reviews in the offseason,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “We understand that. We understand where we are as an organization.
“It doesn’t mean that we’ve lowered our expectations to go out there and compete in the division, not just to play hard but to win games. And introduce a young group of pitchers to the major leagues and get them acclimated to pitching here and rebuilding that pitching staff.”
A few stars remain — Joey Votto for the Reds, Ryan Howard for the Phillies — but both rosters are filled out with youngsters trying to start a career. The Reds’ pitching staff is not only inexperienced, but already depleted as well.
They went with an all-rookie rotation for the last 64 games last season, a major league record. They had to put four of their young starters on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. Raisel Iglesias starts the opener because Anthony DeSclafani — the top starter last season — has a strained oblique.
The offense should be better with catcher Devin Mesoraco and shortstop Zack Cozart back from injuries, but the rotation is still a work in progress and there’s no proven closer.
“I think it’s going to be about our pitching and I think we have good enough guys that are going to be able to keep us where we need to be,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “And we’re going to score some runs and hopefully win a lot more ballgames than some people think.”
The Phillies can identify. They, too, have a young pitching staff and no proven closer.
Jeremy Hellickson starts the opener, unsure how many games he’ll get with the Phillies. They got him from Arizona in a trade last November to add a veteran to their young staff. He can become a free agent at the end of the season, so there’s a chance he could be dealt in July.
For both teams, it’s more about enjoying the moment before the losses start to pile up.
“I’ve been a part of five opening days now, and just the atmosphere — standing on the line, seeing everything, how opening day goes down — you kind of just think, ‘Hopefully I can pitch one of these game sometime in my career,”’ said Hellickson, who was 9-12 last season.
“It’s exciting, that’s for sure. I couldn’t ask for a better situation to come into.”
AP Sports Writer Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia and AP freelance writer Terry Hutchens in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
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