NL Central Preview: Reds
Next game: Wednesday, April 8th at San Francisco
2008: 74-88, fifth place.
Manager: Dusty Baker (second season).
He's Here: C Ramon Hernandez, CF Willy Taveras, OF Jonny Gomes, LHP Arthur Rhodes, SS Alex Gonzalez.
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Projected Lineup: CF Willy Taveras (.251, 1 HR, 26 RBIs, major league-high 68 steals, .308 on-base percentage with Colorado), LF Chris Dickerson (.304, 6, 15), 1B Joey Votto (.297, 24, 84), 2B Brandon Phillips (.261, 21, 78), RF Jay Bruce (.254, 21, 52), 3B Edwin Encarnacion (.251, 21, 68), SS Alex Gonzalez (missed last season with knee injury), C Ramon Heranndez (.257, 16, 55).
Rotation: RH Aaron Harang (6-17, 4.78 ERA), RH Edinson Volquez (17-6, 3.21, 206 Ks), RH Bronson Arroyo (15-11, 4.77), RH Johnny Cueto (9-14, 4.81), RH Micah Owings (6-9, 5.93 with Arizona).
Key Relievers: RH Francisco Cordero (5-4, 3.33, 34/40 saves), RH David Weathers (4-6, 3.25), LH Arthur Rhodes (4-1, 2.04), LH Bill Bray (2-2, 2.87), RH Mike Lincoln (2-5, 4.48).
Hot Spots: Shortstop and left field. Gonzalez was cleared to practice at the start of spring training, appearing fully recovered from a compression fracture in his left knee, but Baker was cautious not to play him too much early in camp. Gonzalez then strained his right hamstring while beating out an infield hit on March 23. If he has another injury-marred season, the Reds will have to make due with a cast of reserves, including Jerry Hairston Jr. Baker is likely to platoon in left field -- Adam Dunn's old spot -- with Dickerson and Gomes initially.
Stat Sheet: After more than a decade of trying to assemble a dependable rotation, the Reds finally succeeded last year. They had four pitchers make at least 25 starts and finish with an ERA below 5.00 (Harang 29 starts/4.78, Volquez 32/3.21, Arroyo 34/4.77 and Cueto 31/4.81) for the first time since 1992, when Jose Rijo, Tim Belcher, Chris Hammond and Greg Swindell did it. The Reds will be leaning heavily on that same rotation this season, with the everyday lineup in transition.
Bottom Line: By trading Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. last season, the Reds set themselves on a new course, building around a nucleus of young players including Bruce, Votto and Phillips. Bruce and Votto were the only set of rookies in the majors to hit at least 21 homers apiece last season. How fast they mature will be the prime focus this season. The rotation could keep the Reds competitive, but they've got a ways to go before they emerge from their rut of eight straight losing seasons.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)