GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- With more than six weeks of Spring Training complete, the Reds are about to break camp with their swings expected to be ready and their arms prepared for the grind of a 162-game schedule.
It was important preparation time, as well, for new manager Bryan Price.
After 14 years as a Major League pitching coach and nine more as a coach on the player-development side in the Minors, Price became a first-time manager -- at any level -- when the Reds promoted him to replace Dusty Baker in October.
Price, 51, inherited a club that won 90 games in 2013, but it couldn't meet expectations when it was eliminated by the Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game. There are high expectations again and numerous challenges ahead.
Before a recent team workout, Price spoke one-on-one with MLB.com about Opening Day and some of the issues in front of him.
MLB.com: As you're getting ready for Opening Day, what are you most looking forward to as the manager?
Price: There's a completely different importance in Opening Day compared to all these Spring Training days. The value of Spring Training is getting our guys ready for the 162-game regular season and a postseason. The importance of winning and losing is significant starting with Opening Day. I look forward to that, because I was always drawn to the adrenaline and the importance of winning at the Major League level. Transitioning from the Minor Leagues as a longtime player and coach, as much as you wanted to win, I always knew that silver lining was in the development of the players. When you get to the Major Leagues, the impetus and focus is always on winning. At the end of the day, you want to win the game. If you win it ugly or play flawlessly, there's relevance in that, but you want to come away with the victory.
MLB.com: You've seen from being here for four years as the pitching coach what Opening Day means to the city of Cincinnati. Even though it's one game out of 162, it still has extra meaning for the fans.
Price: It does. I would like to think that we're advertising what this team is all about -- this version of the 2014 Reds. We want to play the game with a relentless pursuit of excellence and to establish that we really are that team that nobody wants to play, but that comes with a certain attitude and style of play. I think we've cultivated that this spring. I think we have the type of players that can play that way on a daily basis. But Opening Day would be a great way to make a sales pitch to our fans that this is who we are and this is what we're about.
MLB.com: As a first-time manager, you've been faced with one of the common issues for all managers: dealing with injuries. This has been a crazy camp in that regard, although other teams may have had it as bad or worse. Is that one of your first challenges, trying to find ways around adversity and obstacles?
Price: I think it's all perspective. Whatever is happening to us, it may or may not be happening to other clubs. I've read the sports page twice on bus rides this spring and haven't been on the MLB.com website very often. I haven't paid a great deal of attention to the other clubs.
In the end, there will be 25 players in Reds uniforms that we expect will go out there and do everything they can to help us win games. It becomes, "What's the perspective?" Is it that we go, "Well, we're not 100 percent, so we lower our expectations"? That's unacceptable. We have good players here, and we have depth here. We brought in good players for just this exact situation. We knew we weren't going to go through the season with the same 25-man roster until September. We knew there would have to be guys to fortify our club throughout the year. We're going to start with a roster that is going to look different than we anticipated, but with no change in expectations.
MLB.com: From the conversations we've had this spring, you've talked about more defensive shifts, more aggressive baserunning, not using your bullpen for situational pitching as much and having Joey Votto and Jay Bruce batting back to back. You've seemed like you have been more than willing to put your own stamp on the club. How important was it for you to establish your brand as a manager: to be different and to show what you're about?
Price: I think it's important, more than anything, for the players to understand that I have my own perspective of what winning baseball looks like and how we're going to do that with this particular group of players. I just don't feel we can be a station-to-station club. We are not built that way. As we've seen, we can hit and run and steal some bases outside of Billy Hamilton, and we can do things to create opportunities. There is certainly risk-reward. There will certainly be sabermetrics people who suggest that maybe the sacrifice bunt or hit and run or straight steal are not always great offensive weapons, that there is too much risk in sacrificing an out to try to get a base. That being said, I feel like that is the way that we are built. We've got a good pitching and defensive club, but I think if we're sitting around waiting for home runs and one big inning to make the difference, we're going to lose a lot of opportunities to win games.
I didn't really think of it that way as establishing my style. I felt like what I've tried to do is look at our club and what we're capable of doing and give these guys the opportunity to enhance those abilities. I think there are a lot of guys here who feel they are capable of stealing a base off a pitcher that is 1.4 or 1.5 seconds to the plate. I think there are a lot of guys that know they are capable of hitting behind the runner or putting the ball on the ground or hitting the ball hard on a line in a hit-and-run situation. Guys know we have more room to be productive and to be more selfless, and they have embraced it.
MLB.com: Going into this camp, we already knew Hamilton could play defense and that he could run. The one question was whether he could hit at the kind of level needed for leading off in the Major Leagues. Is it safe to say he has either met or exceeded expectations in that regard now that he's been through camp?
Price: He's done extremely well. I think of all the things that have impressed us as an organization, it's how he carried himself. That has impressed me more than his bunting, his defensive play, his ability to grind out at-bats and battle with two strikes -- all areas of his game that needed improvement and have improved greatly. But I think the fact that he hasn't been overwhelmed and that he hasn't come to camp with anxiety over center field being his job to lose and playing the game with great passion -- he's always on. The electricity of who he is as a player and a person is always palpable on the field. That part to me has impressed me more than anything.
Now, if he's hitting .118 and his on-base percentage is .118, it's a lot more of a challenge to stick your neck out and say, "This guy is a guy we're going to commit to for two months to see if he can do this." What he's shown in Spring Training is a better understanding of what his role and responsibilities are to this club, and I think he's continued to address those. He's been very impressive in every facet of the game to me.
MLB.com: On a personal level, since you've taken over the job in October -- going through the games this spring and you're about to begin meaningful games -- has this job been everything you've hoped it would be?
Price: It's exceeded my expectations, because there is a lot of emotion that goes with it. A lot of it is not the question of whether you can do it, it's the question of how long will it take to get comfortable in all these situations where I've never had autonomy, control of decision-making, writing lineups, utilizing a bench and things of that nature. This Spring Training has been the most important segment of this transition for me -- by far. I've dealt with the media before. I've dealt with front-office people. I've dealt with player interaction. I've dealt with discipline. Those are all things I've dealt with over the course of my coaching career. I understand baseball. We'll find out in time if I'm great at this, if I'm good at it or if I'm marginal.
I'm confident that I'm very capable of doing this job well. But the biggest challenge was getting into these environments and seeing how quickly I start to see things that I hadn't really looked for as much before. I feel like every day, with every game that we play, I am more prepared to do this job. I see more. That being said, I could not have advanced this way without the coaching staff that's here. This coaching staff has been invaluable to me. They've got my back, and that's why they are here.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.