Today is one of those days where it's hard to imagine any activity being more appropriate than baseball. Hopefully, Reds fans flock to the stadium tonight, and the rest of this homestand.
Tonight's starter for the Braves, Javier Vazquez is commonly referred to as a "fly-ball pitcher." I know there are statistics regarding what percentage of outs recorded by a pitcher are fly balls, ground outs or strikeouts. I don't think these stats are as important as some people do. One might surmise that Vazquez will get shelled because he is pitching in a hitter's park because of his tendency to induce lots of fly balls.
"Ground ball pitcher" and "fly ball pitcher" are such commonly used terms these days that I wonder if players get lulled into a false sense of security by scouting reports which describe pitchers these ways. It isn't hard to imagine (for example) a Reds player hearing that Vazquez will give him a chance to get under the ball, which is a great thing at Great American Ball Park. It also isn't difficult to imagine how a player would feel after going 0-4 with three strikeouts against a pitcher who he thought he'd be able to tee off on.
Joey Votto is white hot, and it will be interesting to see how long he can keep this torrid streak of hitting going. It is easy to compare Joey Votto to Larry Walker because of their shared nationality, and the fact that most balls that come off their bats look like trouble.
What people who compare the two often fail to note is that Larry Walker had stretches like this for months at a time, for many years in a row. For thirteen years, Walker sprayed the ball all over the field and hit for great power. Walker once hit 49 home runs in the same year he batted .366. He also won seven Gold Gloves. While I think the sky is the limit for Votto, it's important to note the duration of Walker's productivity when comparing the two.
If Votto can be two-thirds the player Walker was the Reds are to consider themselves quite fortunate. Reds fans just have to hope that Votto doesn't replicate Chase Utley's start to last year, and that there isn't a drop off.
Arthur Rhodes adds a tough, veteran presence to the bullpen. It might be the jewelry, or the scowl, but he gives the Reds a hard edge in their middle relief that they have lacked for far too long. Rhodes has started the season off pitching very effectively, which allows Dusty Baker to use David Weathers (who is very underappreciated by most Reds fans) more sparingly. Weathers is a very solid relief pitcher, but it'd be foolish to think he will perform at a higher level if he appears in 70 games rather than 50.
It is worth noting how the Reds manufactured their first run during their 3-0 victory over the Cubs last Wednesday. It's good to see Alex Gonzalez not giving in to his slump and using a two-strike bunt to get aboard. Ted Lilly threw the ball away, and Gonzalez took second. Johnny Cueto hit next and put down a bunt that he seemed unable to during his rookie campaign. Cueto was safe at first, and Gonzalez took third. Gonzalez ended up scoring on a Willy Taveras sac fly, and the Reds were on top. With a young pitcher like Cueto, giving him a lead to work with (even if it is only one run) allows him to pitch with greater command and confidence.
The Reds aren't exactly built to play small ball night-in and night-out, but showing opponents that your team is able to do so if it needs to is an excellent hole card to have. It makes the opposing manager have to think more about what Cincinnati is doing on the base paths, and lowers the amount of focus the pitcher can have on the hitter. Willy Taveras leading off first base has a similar effect.
Last year's (and many years’ before that as well) Reds were simply unable to manufacture runs. Often times opposing teams got out of jams by striking out consecutive hitters. Many games were lost in which there were ample scoring opportunities early in the game. When a pitcher dodges a runners-on-second-and-third-and-no-outs bullet, it gives him great confidence for the rest of the game. Not to knock Adam Dunn or Ken Griffey Jr., but the manager's options are more limited with slower players in the lineup than what we see today.
It will be interesting to see how Cincinnati performs during the next two weeks, and I think it will serve as an important bellweather for the rest of the 2009 season.