Price expects lengthier lineup

As injuries multiplied last summer, the idea of a set lineup was not something Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price could even consider.

As he looks forward to what he, his players and every Reds fan hopes will be a healthier and happier season, Price won’t predict the batting order. But he will say this:

“Our No. 7 hole could be a prolific hitter,” Price said during a small Reds Caravan stop Saturday morning at Fifth Third Field.

The addition of veteran Marlon Byrd in left field and the return of a healthy right side of the infield in first baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips give the offense the opportunity to be solid once again.

“We’re going to have a very strong lineup one through seven,” Price said. “Not only because we’re healthy, but I think the addition of Marlon Byrd gives us that length to our lineup.”

Byrd is 37, but he is coming off his two most productive seasons. He hit 25 home runs and batted in 85 runs last year for the Philadelphia Phillies. Those numbers caught the Reds’ attention, but that wasn’t all.

“What stands out is how hard he plays the game,” Price said. “He does a lot of the little things like going for the extra base. So there are a lot of things beyond his statistical line that impress us.”

Billy Hamilton will bat leadoff for the Reds, but past that Price didn’t give any hints. He said spring training will be the time to figure out the best order for Phillips, Votto, Byrd, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Devin Mesoraco.

“I’m really excited knowing that we’re going to be healthy, knowing we’ve got some new guys,” Frazier said. “We’ve got to test ourselves right away and see how it goes.”

Price is also expecting more out of shortstop Zack Cozart, a career .243 hitter who is coming off his least productive season.

“Zack Cozart, I think, is going to evolve into a very accomplished eight-hole hitter,” Price said.

Starting pitching: There is no question Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake will form the front of the rotation. But what about the spots left open by the trades of Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon?

Left-hander Tony Cingrani, who has 29 career starts, figures to be No. 4, but coming off a shoulder injury he will need to perform well in spring training to secure that spot. The No. 5 spot could be won by Anthony DeSclafani, who came to the Reds from Miami. He started five games for the Marlins last year. And there are others who will be considered.

Price hopes what happened in 2010, when Leake and Travis Wood emerged, happens this spring.

“We have lot of candidates to challenge for rotation spots, but we need performance,” Price said.

Bullpen: Aroldis Chapman is the closer. There is no longer talk of him becoming a starter. Back in the bullpen will be Sam LeCure, Jumbo Diaz, J.J. Hoover and Manny Parra. But all is not settled in a bullpen that saw its ERA balloon to 4.11 last year and blew 19 saves.

“We’ll have some bounce-back performances no doubt about that,” Price said. “But we’ll also need to find another arm or two to supplement.”

The question mark is Sean Marshall, the tall left-hander who has thrown 24 major-league innings since his outstanding first season with the Reds in 2012.

“We’ll really need to keep our fingers crossed that Sean Marshall can come back and be the pitcher he was in 2012,” Price said.

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