Ask Hal: Don’t count on Reds surprising anybody

Hall of Fame baseball writer Hal McCoy knows a thing or two about our nation’s pastime. Tap into that knowledge by sending him an email at halmccoy1@hotmail.com.

Q: Which player has created the bigger distraction on the Reds this spring, Brandon Phillips for not accepting trades or Jay Bruce because his trades fell through? DAVE, MIAMISBURG/CENTERVILLE/BEAVERCREEK.

A: Because of his Type A personality, Phillips is a distraction when he is putting on his patent leather shoes. But so-called distractions in the clubhouse aren’t always negative. It is doubtful any player is thinking “Phillips should have taken the trade” or “Too bad they couldn’t trade Bruce” when they are trying to hit a 90-mph slider.

Q: You are hearing it here first — the Reds will not finish last and will win 76-plus games because a couple of the young pitchers will surprise. What do you think? — RICK, Vandalia.

A: Sorry, Rick, I’ve heard it elsewhere, too. It is nice to be an optimist, even a cock-eyed one. I can see the Reds finishing ahead of Milwaukee, but they’ll need more than 76 wins. It’s the plus-factor you mentioned that counts. And if they are to do better than most people think, more than a couple of those young pitchers will have to surprise people. Two is too few.

Q: What are the odds that Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce all finish the season with the Reds? — MARK, TITUSVILLE, FLA.

A: If I could answer that I’d bet my log cabin and turn it into a mansion. Votto’s contract makes him difficult to trade, but not impossible. Phillips keeps blocking trades but if the Reds put him on the bench he might accept one. Bruce is the one most likely to be traded, which isn’t something you want to see in your yearbook.

Q: There is no doubt that if Jay Bruce and Joey Votto bunt more it will improve their averages. But the shift encourages bunting and doesn’t that take away extra-base hit possibilities. In the big picture, who really benefits when they bunt? — BILL, Mesa, Ariz.

A: For that reason, I wouldn’t like to see Votto bunt that much, especially with his talent for hitting the ball to the opposite field. In Bruce’s case, when you hit .226 with 145 strikeouts and .217 with 149 strikeouts in back-to-back seasons, yeah, mix in a few bunts, or maybe a whole lot of bunts. And that goes for Billy Hamilton, too, even though they don’t overshift on him.

Q: Does the hiring of Lou Piniella put added pressure on manager Bryan Price if the Reds start slowly? — JEFF, Troy.

A: If? Mark it down. They’ll start slow and finish slow. But don’t look for Sweet Lou to take over. He says he has no desire at his age to manage again. He is strictly with the team in an advisory capacity. It is like that reality TV show on TLC, ‘Fat Chance.’

Q: What do you see the Reds doing with Brandon Phillips and Jose Peraza? — JAY, Englewood.

A: They acquired Peraza from the Dodgers to play second base, believing Phillips would accept a trade to rejoin Dusty Baker in Washington. Phillips threw them a devastating curveball by refusing the trade. If I managed the Reds, and thank the baseball gods that I don’t, I’d put Phillips on the bench and play Peraza, part of the team’s future. Phillips, though, is one of the few fan attractions left so he’ll probably play and Peraza will be on the bench and play backup roles.

Q: How far do you think the Flyers will go in the NCAA Tournament? — ALAN, Sugarcreek.

A: Well, they lost their first eight games this season and it is doubtful they even make the NCAA. Oh, you mean the basketball team? Thought you might mean the University of Dayton baseball team since this is a baseball column. I have seen most of the UD basketball home games in person and nearly all on TV. If they get back to playing the way they did early in the season, they’ll make a run. If they play the way they did in February they won’t make an NCAA run, they’ll walk out the door.

Q: As often as it has been said that Billy Hamilton needs to hit better and get on base, has any reporter asked Hamilton what he did in the off-season to improve? — VINCE, Cincinnati.

A: Without asking, I can tell you what he did to improve his hitting this off-season. Not much, if anything. He had shoulder surgery late last season that prevented him from doing much other than rehabbing the shoulder. And he hasn’t been able to hit much this spring, either. So, everybody hold your breath on this one.

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