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Early sign of spring as Reds report to camp

Cincinnati's pitchers, catchers train with clean slate, new manager

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Since the day he took over as Reds manager in October, Bryan Price has waited for Spring Training to start with great anticipation. That day finally came on Friday when Reds pitchers and catchers reported to the club's spring facility.

Overall, Price viewed Day 1 as a success.

"It was good," said Price, who was promoted to replace Dusty Baker after four years as the team's pitching coach. "It's exciting, obviously, for me from a selfish standpoint. It's my first day with the pitchers and catchers as a manager and it's an unbelievable, exciting time for me. More importantly, the guys looked good. Catchers worked well with our group. Pitchers that threw today were sharp, all things considered for a first day of bullpens."

Partially because the season fell well short of expectations in 2013, and also because the winter was particularly brutal, the Reds' offseason probably felt longer and colder than usual to many of their fans.

"You get excited to get back in here and get things started, especially the way everything kind of ended up last year," reliever Jonathan Broxton said. "We'll get back here, start working hard. I think it will be really fun this year with Pricey."

Price will have 31 pitchers and six catchers in camp, and though he and much of his staff is new, the minutiae of the first day was very familiar. Before the first workout, players lined up for physicals and spent much of the morning moving from station to station being poked, prodded and tested. There were also plenty of players saying hello and exchanging pleasantries.

"It's like a little family reunion," said reliever Manny Parra, who re-signed with the club after being a free agent. "The nice thing is I know people this year. I know the organization. There are some new faces on the coaching staff I have to get to know. At least I know Bryan, Mack [Jenkins, the bullpen coach] and a lot of the players. It's great."

By early Friday afternoon, the actual business of baseball began with the first workout of Spring Training. Price admitted that he still had the urge to perform the duties of a pitching coach. Now he has his replacement, Jeff Pico, to work with the pitchers and an entire coaching staff under him.

"The difficult part was the instincts of wanting to kind of work my way around and make sure everything was flowing correctly," Price said. "I said, 'I already have people doing that.' ... There is nothing for me to worry about. But the instinctive part of wanting to go up to a guy and talk to him in the middle of his bullpen or discuss something with the schedule, I have to pull back. It's already in good hands. It's going to be hard to break the instincts of being a pitching coach, but I will get there."

There was also some bad news to start the day when it was revealed that starting pitcher Mat Latos needed left knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus after he slipped during a recent throwing session.

Prospects Neftali Soto, Daniel Corcino and Carlos Contreras didn't make it to camp because of travel issues due to bad weather in the east.

Cincinnati's full squad of 59 players is scheduled to report Wednesday, and the team will work out the same day. As has been the case in recent years, several players have reported early, including shortstop Zack Cozart and center fielder Billy Hamilton.

The Reds finished 90-72 in 2013, which was good for third place in the National League Central and the second NL Wild Card spot. But the season's end left all on the team dissatisfied, to say the least.

Cincinnati dropped its final six games of the year, including the NL Wild Card Game against the Pirates. It sped the dismissal of Baker as manager after six seasons.

The big question is whether the Reds can take the next step forward under Price after an offseason in which the club did not make many improvements to address holes -- especially offensively. The only free agents signed to big league contracts were utility player Skip Schumaker and backup catcher Brayan Pena. Both received two-year contracts.

Meanwhile, there were some key losses to absorb. Leadoff man and center fielder Shin-Soo Choo went to the Rangers in a $130 million blockbuster deal. When dependable starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo was not sought back, he signed with the D-backs earlier this week. Both are expected to be missed, but how much depends on the performance of their replacements.

The speedy Hamilton will get every chance to take Choo's place. Lefty Tony Cingrani, who was impressive as a rookie filling in for Johnny Cueto when the ace was injured last season, should be in the rotation full time.

"It's awesome," Cingrani said of the beginning of camp. "I wish we had Bronson; he was a good leader in the clubhouse. I'm ready to go. It's my second spring. It's a lot different than last year with a different manager and everything. It should be pretty interesting and fun."

Barring an injury or camp surprise, the starting eight spots are expected to be locked down. Core players such as first baseman Joey Votto, second baseman Brandon Phillips and right fielder Jay Bruce are back. Young regulars such as third baseman Todd Frazier and shortstop Cozart enter with another year of experience. So does catcher Devin Mesoraco, who will step up as the regular in place of Ryan Hanigan, who was traded to the Rays in December.

In left field, veteran Ryan Ludwick will seek improved health after a torn labrum in his right shoulder sustained on Opening Day cost him most of last season. Cueto, limited to 11 starts because of a strained right lat muscle, is also looking to show he is all the way back to form. Relievers Broxton and Sean Marshall were also hit hard with arm injuries last season and need to rebound in 2014.

"It helps we were good last year," Parra said. "We lost a couple of guys, but at the same time, we picked up some pieces. We've got good pitching and with pitching and defense, you can always win."

The Reds' first exhibition game is slated for Feb. 26 vs. the Indians at 3:05 p.m. ET at Goodyear Ballpark.

As camp progresses, playing time will be at more of a premium and the roster total will only shrink. General manager Walt Jocketty and Price must put together a 25-man roster by the end of camp. Opening Day is March 31 against the rival Cardinals at Great American Ball Park.

A lot can certainly happen between now and then. It all starts to come together Friday.

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