Baseball season is near. Spring Training games began in Arizona and Florida over the past weekend and teams have had the opportunity to play at least three games to this point.
What does this mean? It means that newly-signed and newly-acquired players are suiting up in their new jerseys for the first time. It means that players across the league are getting out of the winter’s cold and into the warmth of Arizona and Florida. The competitive spirit will soon be rekindled come Thursday, March 26.
The Cincinnati Reds were among the busiest teams over the offseason. For Reds fans, the offseason was a quick one as anticipation was filled with action as the team signed several interesting free agents, such as Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama, among others.
Here’s a recap of the opening trio of Reds games:
Game 1 – Sunday, Feb. 23
The Reds began their Spring Training schedule on Saturday. Or, they were supposed to, at least. Inclement weather cancelled or postponed seven Spring Training games, six of which in Arizona.
After being forced to wait a day, the first pitch of Cincinnati’s Spring Training was thrown on Sunday against the Chicago White Sox. Vladimir Gutierrez, Cincinnati’s No. 11 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, earned the start and threw the ball exceptionally.
Gutierrez gave up a two-pitch single to begin the game and followed that with back-to-back strikeouts of Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu. He finished after two innings pitched and allowed only one hit. Right-hander Tejay Antone followed Gutierrez and threw two scoreless innings of his own. Lucas Sims was the third pitcher the Reds used, but he did not have similar luck.
Sims allowed two runs on two hits and a walk, including an RBI single to White Sox second baseman Leury Garcia. Cincinnati never matched Chicago and ultimately fell 7-2.
Among other pitchers for the Reds were Alex Powers, Chris Volstad, Ryan Nutof, and Brandon Finnegan. Volstad was tagged for four runs.
Offensively, new face and Japanese star Shogo Akiyama led off the Reds’ lineup and started in center field. Akiyama drove the first pitch he saw for a single and finished 1-for-3. Kyle Farmer went 0-for-1 with a walk and earned the start at shortstop, a position he has played only once in his three seasons at the big-league level. Derek Dietrich went 0-for-2 and started at second base after re-signing with the Reds on a minor league deal. Notable Reds prospects to play included first baseman Ibandel Isabel, shortstop Jose Garcia, catcher Tyler Stephenson, and outfielder Stuart Fairchild, who hit a two-run home run.
The Reds had a few scares after left fielder Jesse Winker and first baseman Matt Davidson were both hit by pitches. Winker was hit on his left hand, which is his throwing hand, but said he should be fine. Davidson later felt the same way regarding where he was hit.
Game 2 – Monday, Feb. 24
The second game of the spring saw the Reds welcome the Texas Rangers to Goodyear Ballpark. A nice crowd of 2,041 watched the Reds earn the 9-6 victory.
Luis Castillo was set to start his Spring Training and was jumped on early in his outing. Castillo walked leadoff batter Danny Santana on four pitches and allowed a single to Nick Solak. The Rangers scored three runs off Castillo and charged him with three hits and two walks on 15 pitches.
The Reds answered in their bottom half of the first inning when third baseman Josh VanMeter drew a four-pitch walk. Nick Castellanos, who played right field, grounded out in his first Reds appearance and Mike Moustakas, playing second base, was hit by a pitch in his first at-bat. Catcher Tucker Barnhart worked a walk to load the bases for left fielder Phillip Ervin, who blasted the fifth pitch he saw for a grand slam and a lead that the Reds held on to the rest of the way.
In his third at-bat, Nick Castellanos did what he did historically often last season: hit a double. He finished 1-for-3 with an RBI and Mike Moustakas ended the day 1-for-2 with a walk and two runs scored.
Outfielder Mark Payton was pencilled in as the designated hitter in Sunday’s contest and went 1-for-3 with a run scored. The Reds’ No. 17 prospect and starting shortstop, Alfredo Rodriguez, went 1-3 with a double.
On the pitching side, R.J. Alaniz followed Castillo and earned the win after working out of the jam he was put in. Joel Kuhnel dazzled with 1.2 innings and struck out one batter while not allowing a hit. Sal Romano, who does not hold a spot on Cincinnati’s 40-man roster, threw 1.1 innings of no-hit ball but did walk one Texas Ranger. 27-year-old righty Jose Adames earned the save after his scoreless ninth inning.
Game 3 – Tuesday, Feb. 25
The Reds hit the road for the first time this spring and traveled to Tempe Diablo Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels. This would be the game where reigning American League MVP Mike Trout made his spring debut, and he went 0-for-1 with a walk and a run scored.
Shogo Akiyama returned to the leadoff spot but this time playing left field, allowing Aristedes Aquino to play in center. Curt Casali started at catcher and hit in the three-hole and was followed by Derek Dietrich, who played first base. The Reds rounded out their starting lineup with young prospects Jonathan India, Jose Garcia and Tyler Stephenson at the bottom of the order.
Former Los Angeles Dodger and Tampa Bay Ray Jose De Leon was the starting pitcher after the Reds went scoreless to begin the game. Like Castillo the day before, De Leon did not pitch out of the first inning and allowed two runs on two hits and a walk. Most of the damage against him came off the bat of an Albert Pujols two-run single.
The Angels did not let up offensively when the Reds handed the ball over to Ryan Lillie. Angels right fielder Taylor Ward hit a solo home run and Anthony Rendon hit an RBI single to extend the Los Angeles lead to four. The Reds then brought in lefty Josh D. Smith, who also allowed two runs.
Following Smith, Jesus Reyes allowed an unearned run and the Angels’ offense went quiet after that. However, the Reds’ offense was stifled for the most part until some flares were shot by Jose Garcia.
In the top of the fifth inning, Garcia came to the plate and took a 3-1 pitch over the left-center wall for a solo home run. Two innings later, Garcia uncorked another home run on a 2-2 count. Cincinnati had to like what they saw from the 21-year-old, who also flashed some leather at shortstop.
Cincinnati was able to scratch an unearned run across in the top of the ninth but could not continue to score. The Angels won by a final score of 7-3.
This early in Spring Training should not worry fans or coaches too much as many of the players are facing live pitching on a field in a nine-inning game for the first time since late last year. Teams are throwing pitchers who have yet to log major-league innings and starting players who need looks in order to compete for roster spots.
For the Reds, some areas were brighter than others. Seeing Nick Castellanos return to roping doubles was encouraging and Jose Garcia impressed with two home runs on Tuesday. However, some questions regarding pitching were raised, particularly with starters not being able to finish their first innings (Luis Castillo and Jose De Leon).
Again, though, it is still very early in Spring Training and players are still working out and getting loose. The Reds can not be disappointed with a promising 1-2 start to Spring Training.