Q: Of all the spring trainings you have covered, who was the most unexpected and surprising player to earn a spot on the 25-man roster? — RON, Vandalia.
A: It wasn’t a surprise. It was a shock. In 1982, Jeff Jones, a 20th-round draft pick in 1979, hit .301 with 42 home runs and 101 RBIs. But it was with Class A Cedar Rapids. Jones had spent most of his first four years in Class A. He had a great spring training and general manager Dick Wagner insisted that manager Russ Nixon not only keep Jones, but play him in right field. The grand experiment lasted less than a month and Jones hit .221 with no homers, 13 strikeouts and 11 walks in 53 plate appearances. He was sent back to the minors, never to be heard from again. And the Reds finished last in the five-team National League West.
Q: I have always wondered why teams don’t hire batting practice pitchers who can throw curveballs and sliders that players will see in games. Wouldn’t that help players like Billy Hamilton and wouldn’t it have helped Jay Bruce? WORDMAN, Troy.
A: That’s an extremely good point. Most of the time, coaches pitch batting practice and they throw nothing but straight pitches with little velocity. I fail to see how that helps players when they face major-league pitching and see splitters, sliders and curves. I watch batting practice and before my eye problems I know I could hit those pitches. And with some of the lobs they throw I think I might still be able to put the ball in play. Yeah, yeah. I am a dreamer.
Q: When pitcher Art Fowler was released by the Reds, he said something like, “If I can’t pitch for the Reds, I must be really bad.” Does that equate with the current Reds pitching staff? — CARL, Kettering.
A: Fowler wasn’t released, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in June 1958. And knowing Fowler, that’s something he would say. What was on his mind came out of his mouth. And if any of the Reds think that, they aren’t going to say it. Most of them are just happy to have a job.
Q: Are you worried about Billy Hamilton’s slow start this spring? — UNCMIC, Cincinnati.
A: I’m not worried, but the Reds should be. Yes, it is only spring training, but they’d love to see the guy get a few hits, get on base a few times. As fast as Billy is he should never have a “slow” start in anything he does. He talks fast, he eats fast and he plays the game fast. But he looks much faster running the bases then he does walking back to the dugout.
Q: What’s your opinion of Bryan Price’s performance as manager and do you think the Reds would replace him with Barry Larkin? — LOWELL, Hamilton.
A: It would not stun me at all if Barry Larkin eventually manages the Reds. But not soon. It is hard to evaluate Price until the team puts together a stable pitching staff for him and the injury monster stays away. I love his preparation and his communication with his players. Those players just have to be a lot better before he can be fairly judged. That being said, the manager is always the fall guy.
Q: Jesse Winker is hitting and Nick Senzel hits better than Jose Peraza. Does manager Bryan Price get them in the lineup? STEVE, Miamisburg.
A: You are basing your comments on a small spring training sampling. Plus spring training statistics are highly dubious. Actually, at this writing, Peraza and Senzel both are hitting .250. And Senzel is not a shortstop and probably won’t make the 25-man roster. Winker will, indeed, get a lot of playing time and it wouldn’t surprise me if he takes over right field before the season is over.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Q: What is your view on so many top-level free agents not being signed? Is it collusion to keep salaries down and are some teams tanking for the same reason? — BILL, Mesa, Ariz.
A: It is definitely curious because there are players unsigned who could help teams win a lot of games. It is far too late to control salaries that are already out of control. I hate the term “tanking” because it means teams are losing on purpose. No player on the field wants to lose, so they don’t lose on purpose. There are teams, though, and the Reds are included, who are not trying to field teams capable of winning right now. They are trying to build for the future. There are, though, no guarantees for rebuilding teams. There are, indeed, pitchers and players on the free-agent market who could help the Reds win now. Unfortunately, too many teams are choosing not to win now and hope they can do it on the cheap for the future.