The Science of a Rally

Devin Lohman

When it rains, it pours.

The Blue Wahoos smacked a season-high 14 hits en route to a resounding 7-4 victory, but they didn’t come by the win easily. Fortune favored the Montgomery Biscuits, who sent seven batters to the plate in the first inning, before Pensacola pulled even and eventually ahead. But just how did they do it?

Last night’s game could be boiled down to four turning points, rallies on both sides that contributed to the final outcome. The exact science of this phenomenon is subjective, but it’s simple enough to spot. Baserunners emerge where once there were none, and one team methodically picks apart their defensive opponent to score. A well-executed rally isn’t spontaneous, but rather the product of several factors. With that said, let’s examine the methods that generated momentum last night:

Biscuits 1-0, Top 1st.

The Biscuits begin with a bang as Ryan Brett wallops a leadoff double. The line drive sneaks past Donald Lutz in left field, who swiftly fields the ball on a bounce and rockets it towards the infield. It’s the only hit Wahoos pitcher Daniel Corcino would allow that inning, but Montgomery still found ways to reach.

The lineup is patient, fouling off close pitches but otherwise waiting for Corcino to settle down. Half of the 28 pitches he threw were out of the strike zone, and the Biscuits managed to load the bases without swinging the bat. Two batters reached on walks, the latter of which gave Montgomery an early advantage, while Alejandro Segovia was hit on Corcino’s 1-0 offering. Juan Duran tracks down a long fly ball to end the threat.

Blue Wahoos 5-1, Bottom 3rd.

Pensacola nearly runs through the lineup as hitters pick apart Dylan Floro. Rey Navarro walks to first and advances to second on a Bryson Smith single. Lutz likes what he sees and swings at the first pitch, but it’s an easy catch for Biscuits center fielder Taylor Motter. After a throwing error on Steve Selsky‘s infield single, Bryan Anderson has the upper hand. With the Wahoos’ first lead of the night and two runners in scoring position, Anderson comes up big with a two-run triple. A no-doubt knock by Duran scores the catcher, and the Fish plate four in a monster inning.

What was working in the third? For one, Pensacola led off with the top of the order, a combination that has been spot-on as of late. They created opportunities with big hits, but luck played a role in Selsky taking two bags. Anderson’s triple scored an easy two runs, but the Biscuits may have chanced a throw home if Selsky started at first base.

Blue Wahoos 7-1, Bottom 5th.

Floro threw nine pitches in the fourth and the Wahoos swung at all but two. They keep making contact as Selsky leads off with a single, scoring as Juan Silverio swats a single right down Broadway. Devin Lohman steps in with two aboard, and the designated hitter uses that situation to his advantage. The Montgomery infield, trying to cut off the homebound Anderson, is playing shallow on the grass. That’s where Lohman drops a short fly ball just behind the shortstop, a difficult catch to make and one the Biscuits couldn’t complete. Reliever Braulio Lara cinches up the final two outs.

The Wahoos had a chance to put the Biscuits away, but Floro was pulled midway through the frame with 84 pitches to his name. He likely had a few more throws in him, but Montgomery manager Brady Williams saw the leadoff hitters coming around and needed to limit the damage.

Blue Wahoos 7-4, Top 8th.

Hurler Sean Black was effective in the seventh, but Montgomery roared out of the gate. The Biscuits tack on three hits, and not a moment too soon; held to two hits by Corcino, they reel off a double, RBI triple, and one-run single. Mikey O’Brien is stirred into action, but his arm struggles to warm up on the frigid field. Two walks juice the bags for Jake Hager, who adds a tally with a sacrifice fly.

The Biscuits were aggressive in their fourth trip through the lineup, fouling off pitches and hitting the jackpot on improbable two-strike counts.

Rallies can be initiated by a multitude of different events, and they certainly don’t happen by accident. But at the end of the day, starting (and especially ending) a rally is contingent upon timing. Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver said it best:

You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the d— plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.

Series Preview: Pensacola’s Power Surge

Lutz get it started: Blue Wahoos outfielder Donald Lutz leads the Southern League with a .719 slugging percentage.

Lutz get it started: Blue Wahoos outfielder Donald Lutz leads the Southern League with a .719 slugging percentage.

For Wahoos of all ages, the hours and days preceding Opening Night could be likened to Christmas Eve: anticipation and guarded optimism give way to unbridled joy and the gift of opportunity. That opportunity was one the Wahoos seized, first with an unlikely 6-5 triumph on April 3 and through the weekend with a four-game series victory.

To continue the analogy, then, Pensacola saw its holiday season cut short by the high-flying Huntsville squad. The Stars kept the Wahoos guessing, either coming from behind or piling on early to take the tilt piece by piece. Dealt three straight losses, the Wahoos put their house in order and went back to work. A gutsy extra-inning win on Saturday sparked a derby the next day as Pensacola launched four home runs. Even without a winning series, the Wahoos made a statement and perhaps forged the foundation of their new strategy on offense.

It’s easy to look at the negative news from the Stars’ set — Pensacola lost their grip on first place and own a share of second with the visiting Montgomery Biscuits — but there’s an upside. A team that finished ninth last season in home runs currently leads the league after slamming 10 homers in the pitcher-friendly confines of Huntsville. The top of the lineup has been aggressive, and the approach has been paying off. Rain and wind broke the Wahoos’ six-game home run streak on Monday, but a few Fish are building rallies of their own. Juan Duran and Travis Mattair have had a nose for the bases, working on-base streaks of seven and eight games, respectively. Leadoff man Rey Navarro strung together a seven-game hitting streak and nearly made it eight last night, while Donald Lutz has three extra-base knocks in his last two games.

The idea of a power surge is that the sudden jolt is short-lived, an outlier that lasts just a few seconds before returning to normal. The Wahoos’ strategy is one that’s built to last. The lineup as a whole is taking more big swings, and that quality contact is key to sustaining momentum at the plate. But when you live by the sword, you die by the sword; hitters have been charged with 32 strikeouts in their last four games.

On the hill, the rotation needs to return to its roots and rest assured in a more confident batting order. After tossing a gem against Tennessee, Robert Stephenson was bounced after two innings on Friday. Carlos Contreras was finished after five frames last night as the Biscuits worked counts and packed the bags; he faced six batters and tossed 36 pitches in Montgomery’s first go-around, finishing the outing just a few pitches short of the century mark. Bear in mind that the supporting cast plays a strong role in stretching these starts; the Biscuits sneaked a few hits past the infield last night, scoring two runs in their first at-bat.

With the Wahoos facing Montgomery again in June, July, and August, this matchup could be a reliable barometer as new players trickle into Pensacola. Here’s hoping that the benchmark set this week is one stacked with wins.

RUNDOWN

Wahoos/Biscuits all-time game record: 19-17
Series record: 4-3-0

In Montgomery: 14-11
In Pensacola: 5-6

Expected Starters
Tuesday: RHP Daniel Corcino (0-2, 5.40) vs. RHP Dylan Floro (0-0, 7.71)
Wednesday: RHP Robert Stephenson (1-0, 3.86) vs. RHP Jared Mortensen (1-0, 4.26)
Thursday: RHP Jon Moscot (0-0, 0.90) vs. RHP Michael Colla (0-1, 6.52)
Friday: RHP Michael Lorenzen (2-0, 1.32) vs. LHP Grayson Garvin (0-1, 1.50)

WAHOOS BEAT THEM, YOU EAT THEM

Breakfast under the evening skies? Say it ain’t so! Blue Wahoos executive chef Chris Voorhees has served up the Rise & Shine Burger for this series, a tasty treat for any hour. A fresh biscuit surrounds the cheddar burger, sizzling bacon, and a fried egg.

BISCUIT TO WATCH

Taylor Motter, INF
Bats: R        Throws: R

The fourth-year Rays product looks comfortable in the Southern League, rocking a double last night and starting his first Double-A campaign with a seven-game hitting streak. What he lacks in power he makes up for in speed; Motter has recorded at least 20 stolen bases every season and already has four in 2014.

Gone Fishing: HLS Returns on Tuesday

Bayfront

After a brief hiatus, HLS returns tomorrow morning with the Montgomery Biscuits series preview. The Wahoos (6-4) are on a hot streak leaving Hunstville, smashing 10 home runs in their last five games. This week, Pensacola looks to protect their share of the division lead and hold off the surging Biscuits (5-5), who linger just one game out of first place.

Learn more about our Biscuit to Watch and get the skinny on the second homestand when the blog updates Tuesday.

RECAP: Robert Stephenson Shines in 2014 Debut

Robert Stephenson fires a pitch home as rain falls on April 5.

Robert Stephenson fires a pitch home as rain falls on April 5.

It was an imperfect night in Pensacola.

Rain had delayed Saturday’s game by fifteen minutes and continued to pester players after a two-inning reprieve. The Wahoos’ stalwart grounds crew tended to the diamond every inning as the showers intensified. But it didn’t deter top pitching prospect Robert Stephenson, who dealt five shutout innings in a night to remember.

If the clouds carried the rain, Stephenson brought the thunder. The 21-year-old phenom struck out a career-high eleven batters, including eight on swings and misses. Aside from a double in the second inning and a walk in the fifth — both to catcher Charles Cutler — Stephenson was flawless in his first act. Only four Tennessee batters put the ball in play against Stephenson, who was firing on all cylinders from the start. With a strong fastball and a devastating curveball, the Smokies never cracked the code.

The performance, highlighted by seven consecutive strikeouts, was stunning and (dare we say) Cingraniesque. Tony Cingrani whiffed fifteen batters on June 27, 2012, but he went the distance that night with an eight-inning outing. J.C. Sulbaran struck out eleven in just over six innings. Stephenson only needed five frames to tie the mark, and he likely had more in the tank. In his curtain call, the 2011 first-round selection smacked a double down the first-base foul line for his first professional hit. “I don’t have to worry about that anymore,” Stephenson quipped in a MiLB.com feature story.

His first-ever relief performance came on the heels of rehabbing Jonathan Broxton, who reports to St. Louis on Monday to rejoin the Reds. Catcher Devin Mesoraco will also return with a clean bill of health. He’ll likely put in a good word for yesterday’s battery mate as well.

“He has got special, special stuff, and he is only going to get better and better,” Mesoraco raved to local media. “I think it will be a very exciting couple years here for Robert just to see how quickly he progresses and how quickly he improves.”

FLASH: Stephenson Scorches Smokies with 11 Strikeouts

Robert Stephenson

Robert Stephenson dazzled in his first appearance of 2014, striking out eleven batters across five one-hit innings.

Full story tomorrow.

Friday Leftovers: Latos, Reds’ Quotes with the Most, and Vintage Cingrani

Mat Latos had one job when he took the hill for yesterday’s rehab appearance, and it wasn’t winning the game.

Mat Latos

Runs and hits were secondary to the starter’s main objective, one that Latos feels to have completed. “The body of the knee feels good, the elbow feels good,” Latos told reporters yesterday night. The Reds are keeping a close eye on the 26-year-old after two offseason surgeries, including a procedure last October to remove four bone chips. “That was the main concern, the elbow,” he continued.

On the start:

My ego is a little bruised, but it is what it is. No, I feel great.

… I was throwing strikes. I got hit around and hit around hard, but regardless, the control was there. It’s just a matter of finishing the hitters. Making that pitch when I needed to.

On missed time:

[Rehab in Cincinnati] really wasn’t hard, though. I had a couple rehab practices I had to go through. I’d say spring training was the worst six weeks because I wasn’t able to actually get out with the guys and just hang out at batting practice.

On Kris Bryant, who homered in the first:

[The Smokies have] Kris Bryant, number one pick. That’s what the guy is supposed to do. Guys like that…that’s what they’re up there to do.

They’re looking for a pitch in the zone and they are going to drive it. And it doesn’t help that I threw it right down the middle.

And now, it’s time for…Name! That! Red!

Between a rained-out exhibition and a pair of rehabbing Reds, plenty of top-tier players saw Pensacola Bayfront Stadium for the first time. It’s certainly a magical moment, looking out at the water as a light breeze peels off the bay. The team had plenty of praise, but how well can you match a quote to the name of its respective speaker? Try your hand at Name That Red:

1. “I felt like I was at home again because this is where it all started, really. I felt great coming back here.”
2. “I played in Chattanooga, and I loved that ballpark. … I’ve never played here, but I’ve heard really, really fantastic things.”
3. “Didn’t get to play at the beautiful @BlueWahoosBBall field but did meet lots of amazing fans! Thanks #Pensacola!!! #SALUTE”
4. “The fans here are awesome. The support is great. They love having a team here. When the Wahoos play, the games are sold out. It’s fun for them to see us play.”
5. “They said some really un-minor league things about being here, and you can see that just in the clubhouse. It seems like the fans really have a passion for baseball.”

A. Joey Votto    B. Billy Hamilton    C. Brandon Phillips    D. Tony Cingrani    E. Jay Bruce

Blast from the Past: Mark Mallory’s first pitch

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory served eight years in office and brought sweeping reforms to the city. None swept as far as this Opening Day pitch in 2007.

Claiming to have trained with the University of Cincinnati, his offering was anything but rehearsed. The pitch missed the mark by a good thirty feet, finishing more towards first base than home plate. He even drew an ejection from the umpire before the Reds took the field.

A pitch worthy of an ejection? Really? Come on, man!

Big League Wahoos

Tucker Barnhart, CIN: The scene was surreal, at least in context. Mat Latos and Devin Mesoraco, both starters for the Reds, pitched rehab stints in Pensacola; meanwhile in Cincinnati, Barnhart caught Bell as he had so many times last season. The two-year Wahoo made his debut yesterday, 0-for-4 at the plate but successful behind it. He zapped Jon Jay at third base during the fourth inning, the first of many for the defensive wizard.

Trevor Bell, CIN: The road back to the major leagues has been a difficult one for Bell, who made his Reds debut yesterday. In his first big-league game since September 27, 2011, the former Blue Wahoos closer faced three batters before exiting without an out. Bell pitched a tad better than the box score, missing a few close calls around the edges but nonetheless granting two walks. After a Matt Holliday single was upheld by review, Bell departed; he was charged with three earned runs.

Tony Cingrani, CIN: Fans knew in 2012 that the fiery southpaw was going places. From his fifteen-strikeout gem on June 27 to the .192 average to which he held Southern League hitters, Cingrani’s star power was evident during his brief time as a Wahoo. Just two years later, he finds himself second in the Reds’ starting rotation, and he made the season’s first start count. Opposite Cardinals’ phenom Michael Wacha, Cingrani dealt seven shutout innings and allowed just four hitters to reach. Competitive to the end, he promptly picked off Mat Adams after issuing a walk. It was Cingrani’s nineteenth straight start in which he allowed five hits or fewer, the longest big-league streak in the last century.

Billy Hamilton, CIN: The speedster has started all three games for the Reds in center field, but the bat has not yet come around. Hamilton is 0-for-12 with six strikeouts and a walk; he did not attempt a steal. To his credit, the rotation he’s facing is one of the best in the game.

Curtis Partch, CIN: The former Wahoos reliever protected a tight 7-6 losing margin to perfection, tossing two perfect innings and striking out one.

Snacks

>> PNJ.com’s Bill Vilona: Latos yields early runs, pleased with effort
>> AL.com: Opening Night photo gallery
>> Skydiver injured during Chattanooga Lookouts’ opening ceremony
>> Rosters: Louisville, Pensacola, Bakersfield, Dayton
>> MiLB.com’s Southern League preview
>> MLB Pipeline: Top Reds prospects bring plenty of promise

Name That Red Answers

1. Hamilton
2. Votto
3. Phillips
4. Cingrani
5. Votto again (we just can’t get enough)

Series Preview: As Offseason Wraps Up, The Questions Only Get Tougher

Top prospect Robert Stephenson will pitch in primetime on Saturday night.

Top prospect Robert Stephenson will pitch in primetime on Saturday night.

At long last, the twenty-week waiting game ends tonight.

To be more precise, players and fans alike have waited 213 days to begin the 2014 campaign, Pensacola’s third. Circumstances from playoffs to precipitation had a hand in stretching the offseason, including last week’s exhibition game. The Wahoos’ home finale on August 27 closed the curtain on Pensacola Bayfront Stadium, but it didn’t close the regular season. Rain then soaked Friday’s match with the Cincinnati Reds, one that offered a glace at our potential 2014 lineup.

Alas, it’s a new day. With clear skies and clear eyes, the Blue Wahoos begin the championship season with a five-game set against the Tennessee Smokies. Groundskeeper Ray Sayre’s field is groomed to perfection, and thousands of empty seats await. Gone are the doubts of early spring, the challenges of evaluating prospects and splitting hairs between a Double-A or Triple-A roster spot. The focus changes today, though the goal never does.

Questions abound after a head-scratching finish in 2013, and there’s an elephant in every room of the Reds’ minor league system. Winning is always a bonus when player development comes first, but learning how to play winning baseball is invaluable. The Wahoos are coming out swinging this season, returning eight position players from last year and fielding a fierce starting rotation. For second-year skipper Delino DeShields, however, the greatest challenge must be answered tonight.

With the gift of hindsight, it’s safe to say that the task of assigning twenty-five players to Pensacola was easier than setting tonight’s lineup of nine. There is certainly talent on the roster, perhaps too much, and the possibilities are endless. Bryson Smith patrolled right field before his injury last summer, a position shared by newcomer Juan Duran. Three-year Wahoos veteran Donald Lutz split time between Pensacola and Cincinnati, anchoring left field.

On the diamond, Brodie Greene has been an everyday second basemen for two seasons but may have some competition. Reynaldo Navarro and Juan Silverio were used there last year; both players also saw time at third base, a position that Travis Mattair occupied for nearly half a season. Even if Mattair moves to first base full-time, he’ll challenge the returning Steve Selsky, who played first base in sixty-eight games for Bakersfield.

Tennessee is no stranger to the postseason, who have made the playoffs in four of the last five years. Loaded with three of Baseball America’s top prospects, the Cubs’ pipeline clearly runs through Tennessee this month. The rotation was built piece by piece through trades, but homegrown talent dominates the infield and outfield. Even with phenom Javier Baez stationed in Triple-A Iowa, the rest of Chicago’s stacked system will cycle through Kodak at some point this season.

With a few big-league rehab assignments tossed in, there’s no close call as to which team has the advantage. In a year with no guarantees, that’s just the way we like it.

RUNDOWN

Wahoos/Smokies all-time game record: 6-13
Series record: 1-3-0

In Tennessee: 2-7
In Pensacola: 4-6

Expected Starters
Thursday: #RHP Mat Latos vs. RHP Dae-Eun Rhee
Friday: #RHP Jonathan Broxton/RHP Daniel Corcino vs. RHP C.J. Edwards
Saturday: RHP Robert Stephenson vs. #RHP Jake Arrieta/RHP Corey Black
Sunday: RHP Jon Moscot vs. RHP Ivan Pineyro
Monday: RHP Michael Lorenzen vs. RHP Matt Loosen

# — rehab appearance

FUN FACT

Jeff Fassero was the pitching coach in Tennessee for two seasons before joining the Reds organization over the offseason. He comes highly recommended by Smokies broadcaster Mick Gillispie, who heralded his knowledge of the game and mentoring process with prospects Kyle Hendricks and Eric Jokisch last year.

SMOKY TO WATCH

Kris Bryant, OF
Bats: R        Throws: R

To say that the 22-year-old infielder is on the fast track would be a gross understatement. Bryant begins his first full season just two steps from Wrigley Field, a major accomplishment for the second pick of last season’s draft. (Sidebar: last season! That’s less than forty games!)

Bryant will be an imposing figure at third base, and a formidable Wahoos rotation may have their hands full with last season’s top amateur player. To make a long story short, the ball doesn’t stay in the park very long when Bryant steps to the plate.

Blue Wahoos Get Big League Boost with Rehabbing Latos, Mesoraco

Latos, the Opening Day starter, will pitch in his first minor league game since 2009.

Latos, the Opening Day starter, will pitch in his first minor league game since 2009.

Opening Day in Pensacola is more than the season’s first game. More than anything else, it is a chance to watch the next big thing. Didi Gregorius, Henry Rodriguez and Pedro Villarreal stole the show in 2012; all three found themselves in Louisville and Cincinnati before the season’s end. Tucker Barnhart and Chad Rogers were factors in last year’s statement win, and they’re moving on to bigger stages this season.

With that said, Opening Day 2014 just got bigger.

Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos will throw the first pitches of the home opener against the Tennessee Smokies. The right-hander, placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21, is still recovering from left knee surgery on February 14 to repair a meniscus tear. Latos suffered the injury in the early days of Spring Training after successfully returning from a right elbow procedure in October.

Progress so far has been slow but steady; Latos completed a throwing program in late February and his first bullpen session on March 5 went off without a hitch. He mixed in his entire repertoire in a March 11 extended bullpen and tossed live batting practice two days later. In his return to game action, the Indians scattered three hits in a two-inning outing on March 19, with Latos fanning four for Bakersfield during Spring Training. Latos fired three scoreless frames on March 24 with four strikeouts and two hits, this time with the Wahoos’ spring squad. He threw another sixty pitches in a four-inning stint on Saturday, stationed with the farmhands in Arizona while the parent club flew through Pensacola on the way home. This Opening Day start will be a tune-up more than anything else, as Reds skipper Bryan Price expects the 26-year-old to return to the rotation by mid-April.

Latos will pitch five innings on Thursday with his battery mate Devin Mesoraco behind the dish. Another Reds starter, the ailing catcher also plans to hit after sustaining a strained left oblique on March 19.

“[The injury] was just real minor and I just took a second,” Mesoraco told MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon. “I kept trying to swing and kept going and it didn’t bother me at all. I came in and sat down and cooled down and went back out. I could just tell that it wasn’t quite right. So I kind of shut it down before I did anything to really aggravate it.”

As far as his rehab goes, Mesoraco took thirty swings on March 24 and fifty the following day, split between the tee and soft toss. When he makes his Wahoos debut, it would be his first game since March 17.

Relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton will also work towards Cincinnati this week. Famously traded from Kansas City for former Wahoos Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulbaran, the set-up man has been sidelined by a right forearm flexor mass surgery since August 23. In three spring appearances, Broxton has tossed three scoreless innings with two hits, a pair of strikeouts, and two walks. He is expected to arrive for Opening Night.

Broxton will likely throw one inning on Friday night.

 

Preview: A Win for Pensacola, No Matter What

Carlos Contreras registered a 3-2 record and 2.76 earned run average last summer in Pensacola.

Carlos Contreras registered a 3-2 record and 2.76 earned run average in Pensacola.

Present, meet future.

For the first time since 1958, Pensacola gets a taste of the big leagues as the Cincinnati Reds come to town. What better way to kick off the third season of Blue Wahoos baseball than a skirmish against their parent club? After a few years of player development, there are former Fish on both sides of the diamond. Among others, Billy Hamilton – an instant fan favorite as his stolen base chase picked up speed — returns to Pensacola after enjoying late-season success in 2013. And what better place to host the Reds than our bayfront stadium, the crown jewel of the Southern League? Even as early rain peltered the outfield, the city was alive with bright red shirts around every corner and the iconic C logo donning more and more hats by the day.

The Reds come with a full house, as thirty-eight players and nineteen pitchers remain in camp. A handful of Triple-A players have also stopped by, likely actors on tonight’s stage as we head into the late innings. They will occupy the first-base dugout, opposite the next generation of Wahoos. There may be tweaks to the lineup, but the players you watch tonight are more or less the same men who will take the field on Opening Day. Maybe the weather isn’t showing it, but spring is finally here and so is our national pastime.

The star-studded rosters are headlined by some of the top pitchers in the system. Carlos Contreras takes the hill for the Blue Wahoos, back for his second season in Pensacola. Ranked by Baseball America as the seventh-best prospect in the Cincinnati system, Contreras will end a strong spring campaign as the starting pitcher in tonight’s exhibition. The right-hander has allowed one earned runs and two hits across four Spring Training appearances, all in relief.

Contreras, a member of the Reds’ 40-man roster, was optioned from High-A Bakersfield on July 18 and made his Double-A debut the next day. It is thus far the apex of his journey to the major leagues, one that has twisted in and out of the starting rotation. He logged 60.2 innings of work across forty-nine relief appearances in 2012 before transitioning to a starting role last year. Contreras didn’t disappoint, finishing fifth among all Reds minor league pitchers with 122 strikeouts and a ninth-best 3.47 earned run average.

Former Wahoos pitching coach Tom Brown has high praise for Contreras, citing the one-two punch of a sharp fastball and sneaky breaking ball. In a discussion with MiLB.com last season, Brown lauded his awareness and struck a comparison that few would throw around:

He’s just so good, so easy to work with. Understands the game, makes adjustments, he’s a really perceptive person. And his fastball, boy, his fastball runs 91-95 mph, touches 96, but it’s got a 6- to 10-inch cut. It’s really live, a special fastball.

… Carlos has the makeup of [Reds pitcher Johnny] Cueto. He’s really calm, understands the game and has that quality fastball. Cueto threw [in the 90s] and hit 97 mph, and Carlos is gonna have a good changeup. He has two plus-pitches already.

The Dominican product garnered All-Star honors in the California League last year and also represented the World team at the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game.

Cincinnati will counter with right-handed pitcher Mike Leake, who is coming off a record year with the Reds. A fifth-year Reds starter, Leake posted a career-best fourteen wins while notching nearly two hundred innings in thirty-one starts. Though the Brewers roughed him up in Sunday’s 9-1 Reds defeat, Leake has otherwise had a fine camp with nine strikeouts and just one walk in thirteen innings.

His rise to the top has been well-documented and a rarity in the Minor League era; Leake bypassed the pipeline and made the 2010 Opening Day roster outright. Leake became the first to do so since 2000 and first Red since shortstop Bobby Henrich joined the Reds from high school in 1957. The stars have certainly aligned during his career, from four varsity letters at Fallbrook (CA) High School to back-to-back Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year titles with Arizona State University. Following his stint in the Arizona Fall League, Leake proved that his arrival was no fluke. He ranked among National League rookie pitchers with eight wins (T-5th), 91 strikeouts (7th), and a 4.23 earned run average (9th). In fact, Leake has the résumé of a lifetime, posting a 42-29 record and striking out 447 batters all before his twenty-seventh birthday. He’s no slouch in the batter’s box, either; his fifty-seven career hits are the most by any pitcher since his debut. Leake slashed twelve hits last season, including three for extra bases.

The wait is over, the lineups are set, and it’s go time from Pensacola. Play ball!

RUNDOWN: Cincinnati Reds vs. Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Site: Pensacola Bayfront Stadium — Pensacola
Time: 6:05 PM CST
On the Mound (2013 stats): RHP Mike Leake (14-7, 3.37 ERA) vs. RHP Carlos Contreras (8-9, 3.47 ERA)
On-Air: ESPN Pensacola | 700WLW (Cincinnati) | Free on MiLB.TV
Social Media: @BlueWahoosBBall | @wahoosblog | @Reds | Facebook | Instagram

CIN Lineup

Billy Hamilton, CF
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Joey Votto, 1B
Jay Bruce, RF
Todd Frazier, 3B
Chris Heisey, LF
Zack Cozart, SS
Brayan Peña, C
Mike Leake, RHP

PNS Lineup

Devin Lohman, SS
Bryson Smith, RF
Yorman Rodriguez, CF
Donald Lutz, LF
Travis Mattair, 1B
Juan Duran, DH
Juan Silverio, 3B
Bryan Anderson, C
Brodie Greene, 2B

Carlos Contreras, RHP

As Reds Fight Injuries, Opportunity Knocks for Trevor Bell

 

Bell has been impressive this spring, allowing only one earned run in 8.2 innings while striking out eleven.

Bell has been impressive this spring, allowing only one earned run in 8.2 innings while striking out eleven.

Trevor Bell knows what it takes to make the majors.

A former first-round selection of the Los Angeles Angels, the 27-year-old pitcher first broke camp with the major-league squad in 2009. He made his debut that same year, registering fifty-two appearances and eleven starts in all over the next three seasons. After his release in 2012 and departure from the Detroit Tigers’ camp last year, his career hung in the balance.

When the Reds came calling last season, Bell could have given in to bitterness. His break with Detroit wasn’t a clean one, and the team wasn’t promising much. The only certainty was his assignment in Pensacola. Bell explained these expectations in a Cincinnati Enquirer feature story:.

They said, ‘go there, we want you to help the team out, younger guys, show them how to be in the clubhouse, how to be outside the field.’ I took that responsibility with open arms because I knew that’s what they wanted me to do.

Bell embraced his position of role model, as well as that of a closer. He registered a team-best seventeen saves and earned an invitation to Spring Training, a testament to his work ethic and strong summer campaign. As he continues to make waves with the big-league camp, Bell finds himself in the driver’s seat with just a few days left before Opening Day.

Spring injuries aren’t uncommon, but the Reds have been hit particularly hard. Along with a few injuries in the field, the rotation is battling ailments from strains to irritation. However, most of the damage has been charged to the bullpen. Cincinnati finds itself without their eighth-inning setup men in Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton, while the unexpected loss of Aroldis Chapman removes a sure bet from contention for at least four weeks.

These circumstances give the remaining relievers in camp a chance to step up, including Bell. With Alfredo Simon likely moving into the rotation until Mat Latos returns from knee surgery, relievers are also vying for a bullpen spot. For contenders like Nick Christiani, a fixture on the 40-man roster, the path is relatively straightforward. Bell’s battle is an uphill one: daunting, but not impossible.

The biggest factor that makes Bell a dark horse to crack the roster is logistics. Although the extent of some injuries are severe, none of them warrant a move to the 60-day disabled list. Crafting the Opening Day roster would be much simpler in that case. By doing so, the Reds could open up a spot for Bell, a non-roster invitee, with ease. Another setback arises if position players make the cut. Infielder Ramon Santiago, who has enjoyed a strong spring, was added on Wednesday morning.

Injuries won’t count against the 25-man roster, though their return will bounce their replacements to either the bench or the minor leagues. In essence, a cup of coffee in April may not necessarily lead into a permanent position with the team.

But the ability to come full circle in his major league experience is another opportunity for which Bell won’t stop fighting.

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