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Reds enter camp eyeing bounce-back year

Club counting on returning players to regain form in 2015

CINCINNATI -- To many observers this offseason, the Reds were an enigmatic club in numerous ways. As Spring Training approaches this week, it has become no less difficult to predict how they will perform in 2015.

Coming off of a disappointing 76-win 2014 season, Cincinnati certainly needed to improve and make upgrades. However, while general manager Walt Jocketty made some moves, he wasn't dynamic or splashy with the additions like some of the other teams. Faced with a closing window to contend and key players nearing free agency, the Reds also didn't blow up their roster and start a rebuilding process. But they did trade two quality starting pitchers (Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon) for a return of young talent.

Instead, this is a team that is putting most of its faith into the hands of returning players already on the roster -- several of whom are coming off injuries or down years.

Many of the statements about the 2015 Reds begin with, "If."

• If Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips are healthy again and productive ...

• If Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco continue their trend upward as hitters ...

• If Homer Bailey can return from right arm surgery and form a 1-2-3 punch at the top of the rotation with ace Johnny Cueto and No. 3 starter Mike Leake ...

• If Billy Hamilton gets on base more often and also improves his stolen-base percentage ...

• If the bullpen can rebound from a poor 2014 ...

Should most or all of those "ifs" work out positively in their favor -- especially regarding Votto -- the Reds should be contenders in the National League Central.

"We just have to worry about winning, worry about being team-oriented and keep going along and being healthy," Frazier said before dropping an "if" of his own. "If we're healthy, we have a real good shot of being champions in the [NL] Central Division."

Division rivals, of course, have a say in the outcome, too, and the NL Central appears to be the toughest of all entering this season. The defending-champion Cardinals added Jason Heyward to an already strong lineup. The Cubs declared they want their recent futile seasons to end with the additions of ace Jon Lester, manager Joe Maddon and catcher Miguel Montero. The Brewers and Pirates have similar rosters that carried them well in the race last year.

Reds manager Bryan Price, entering his second season on the job, hasn't lowered his expectations based on what happened in 2014 or by what the rest of the division has done over the offseason.

"We anticipate having a big bounce-back year," Price said last month. "We should be held accountable to come back and play much better than we did last year."

Jocketty did make some acquisitions aimed at upgrading deficiencies in left field, the bullpen and the bench. Since left fielder Marlon Byrd was acquired in a trade from the Phillies on Dec. 31, the Reds made a flurry of moves in recent weeks to take advantage of potential bargains.

"We knew we would have to wait until the end to finalize our roster," Jocketty said. "Getting Byrd when we did took some of the pressure off, and he's a big asset. The last couple of weeks, we rounded out the bullpen. I feel much better about our club going into camp."

Video: Outlook: Byrd is a proven, reliable power bat

Here is a look at some key dates ahead:

Pitchers and catchers report
Wednesday, with the first workout on Thursday

Full squad reports
Feb. 23, with the first full-squad workout on Feb. 24

First Spring Training game
Home vs. Indians, March 3, 3:05 p.m. ET

Opening Day
Home vs. Pirates, April 6, 4:10 p.m. ET

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
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