Opening Day takeaways mostly positive for Reds
Return to health for Votto, Bruce among causes for optimism; bridge to Chapman needs work
CINCINNATI -- Sure, it was just one game and there are still 161 more of them to be played in the regular season. But Monday's 5-2 Opening Day victory over the Pirates was the Reds' first game that counted after nearly seven weeks of Spring Training workouts and exhibition contests.
There were certainly some things worthy of note to take from the first game, and perhaps it's a sign of things to come. Here are three:
1. Manager Bryan Price's lineup seemed well constructed
Price played his Opening Day lineup plans very close to the vest all winter and throughout camp. It wound up being one that made sense, especially with Joey Votto hitting second, Todd Frazier third and Brandon Phillips seventh. The buttons he pushed certainly worked when it counted. After Votto and leadoff hitter Billy Hamilton reached base with hits in the bottom of the eighth, Frazier slugged the game-winning three-run home run off Tony Watson.
Even before the game, Frazier was at ease with being in an important run-producing spot.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," Frazier said. "You've got to be one of those guys driving in runs. Pressure is a crazy thing, so you might as well bring it all in and take care of it."
2. The bridge between starting pitcher and closer Aroldis Chapman was rickety.
The Reds' bullpen struggles last season were well-chronicled, and it was something that was addressed in the offseason. Yet one of the new additions was unable to get it done on Monday. Price noted that the roles, except for Chapman, were still undefined and used veteran pickup Kevin Gregg to set up in the eighth with a 2-0 lead. Even though Gregg got two outs, his stuff was hit very hard by all four batters faced, including a game-tying two-run homer by Andrew McCutchen. While Frazier saved the day, the club can ill afford to waste great seven-scoreless-innings, 10-strikeout performances like Johnny Cueto's vs. Pittsburgh.
3. Votto and Jay Bruce looked pretty, pretty good.
No hitters on the Reds are more under the microscope than these two after injury-filled, subpar 2014 seasons. A National League scout said in the offseason that his team's pitchers weren't so worried last season about Votto because he was hitting on one leg, while bothered by a left quad injury. On Monday, as he went 2-for-4 with two lined singles, Votto showed he won't be an easy out. Against Watson in the eighth, Votto was in a 0-2 count. He patiently looked at three fastballs for balls before hitting a sharp single to left field to set up Frazier.
Bruce, who endured the worst hitting season of his career in 2014 after a turbo recovery from left knee surgery last May, appeared to be closer to his old self again. Entering the day 1-for-18 with seven strikeouts vs. Francisco Liriano, Bruce drew a five-pitch walk in the second inning -- his first against the ace lefty. In the fourth, he blistered a 1-2 pitch for a line-drive homer to right field while looking like the guy who consistently hit 30 homers for three straight years.