GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- During his first baseball season in the United States, following a defection from Cuba, Raisel Iglesias and the Reds were certainly pleased. In a relatively short amount of time, Iglesias developed as a rookie starting pitcher. He showed he could handle himself mentally on the Major League
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- During his first baseball season in the United States, following a defection from Cuba, Raisel Iglesias and the Reds were certainly pleased. In a relatively short amount of time, Iglesias developed as a rookie starting pitcher. He showed he could handle himself mentally on the Major League stage and was comfortable in the environment.
One drawback was right shoulder fatigue that forced Iglesias to shut down his 2015 season early. He did not pitch again after Sept. 13. An offseason shoulder strengthening and flexibility program was introduced. That program has him on a slightly different schedule than the other pitchers in Reds camp this spring, and his first game likely won't come until near the middle of March.
"But that does not compromise the probabilities of him starting the season in our rotation on time," Reds manager Bryan Price said on Saturday. "That is not right now in jeopardy."
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Iglesias felt the program he's been on has been helpful and will help him complete the 2016 season.
"The good news is I feel really well right now," Iglesias said through translator Tomas Vera. "I've been doing long-toss -- all the different distances. I thank God I feel really well and my flexibility is back to normal. My arm feels good. No problems. I think this year I'm going to have a successful year.
"I'm the type of person that doesn't have really good flexibility. I never have. Because of my lack of flexibility, the team decided to put me in a flexibility program in the offseason. That way, my arm could get back to where it was."
Iglesias, 26, was 3-7 with a 4.15 ERA in 18 games, including 16 starts, for the Reds in 2015. In 95 1/3 innings, he allowed 81 hits and 28 walks with 104 strikeouts and a 1.14 WHIP.
The second half was particularly encouraging for Iglesias as he ran a streak of seven straight quality starts from Aug. 1-Sept. 2, with a 2.31 ERA. He also became the first pitcher in Reds history to record at least 10 strikeouts in three consecutive starts. The club shut him down as a precaution in mid-September.
Price believes increased flexibility will help Iglesias be even more effective and healthier.
"The issue we had last year, like we did with [Aroldis Chapman], is we can take a look at the [Cuban] Industrial League stats and understand he had some international play, and then they play some games internally, scrimmages and intersquad. It's impossible to understand how many innings he threw," said Price. "They're training about 11 of the 12 months of the year in Cuba, so I know he's thrown a lot. But he also missed a year with the defection. When he showed up, we knew that a shoulder program was going to be extremely important."
Iglesias acknowledged that he had to get used to a new way of preparation.
"I think last year was a long, long year for me," Iglesias said. "Coming from a completely different system to this type of season, I thought the season was never going to be over. If you think about my physical condition, besides all the things that happened, I felt good the whole season, because my body was feeling good."
During an offseason spent at his home in South Florida, Iglesias continued to have an affinity for the American way of life, and he particularly enjoys some of the basic things most Americans take for granted.
"What I like the most, the environment, how well they do things, the cleaning, the hygiene," Iglesias said. "I think it's something you should see everywhere around the world."
Although he spoke Spanish and used a translator on Saturday, Iglesias has been practicing English since he joined the Reds. For the past few days, he has greeted teammates and media members in English and has asked how their families were.
Learning his second language is important to Iglesias.
"That's one of the goals I want to achieve," he said. "The little time I've been in this country I have learned enough. I understand a lot, but it's really hard to talk. Little by little as time goes by, I'm going to be able to communicate without any issue."
As relations between the U.S. and Cuba have thawed over the past year, including the possible lifting of a travel embargo to the island, Iglesias was not looking to return to his home country.
"At this particular time, I cannot go back to Cuba," he said. "I really don't have any interest in going back. Up until now, I feel really good to be here."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.