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Notes: Gray challenged; Votto honors Fernandez

@m_sheldon
February 19, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As Reds pitchers faced hitters for the first time in spring camp on Wednesday, Sonny Gray drew no slouches for his session. Gray threw 25 pitches to Nick Castellanos, Aristides Aquino and Shogo Akiyama. “It was fun. I was healthy, I felt great. I checked all the

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As Reds pitchers faced hitters for the first time in spring camp on Wednesday, Sonny Gray drew no slouches for his session. Gray threw 25 pitches to Nick Castellanos, Aristides Aquino and Shogo Akiyama.

“It was fun. I was healthy, I felt great. I checked all the boxes. It was fun to compete,” said Gray, who had surgery in September to remove bone chips from his right elbow.

There were no major moments against Gray. As for his foes, here were Gray’s thoughts:

On Castellanos:

“The biggest thing was to compete against Nick Castellanos. Watching him, he is the ultimate competitor. I think that’s what he brings along with the skills he brings. It’s a competitiveness that rubs off on others.”

On Aquino:

“Me and Aquino had a thing from last year. We were talking trash. It was fun to face him. That had been an ongoing joke in the clubhouse for a while now, just the matchup.”

On Akiyama:

“It’s still so early in camp, but you can tell when some guys get in the box, you want to lock it in and compete. You could see the look in his eyes. That’s the first thing I look at when a hitter steps in is ‘what are they giving me here,’ from a body language thing? You could tell he was locked in. He was in it. That was good to see. He’s quick and has quick hands inside. The skills are obviously there. I just wanted to see how he was as a competitor. It was a fun matchup for sure.”

After live BP concluded, Gray spoke with Akiyama through interpreter Luke Shinoda.

“I was able to learn a lot. I know he’s a great pitcher for the organization,” Akiyama said via Shinoda. “He taught me that a lot of pitchers raise their leg and try to change the timing for the batters. He said overall, a lot of Major League pitchers do that. I’m glad I was able to face him at the very beginning so I know what’s coming.”

Because they chose a later start to camp than the rest of the Major League clubs, the Reds are on a tighter schedule this year. The first full-squad workout was on Tuesday and pitchers had their first workout on Saturday. Generally in the past, the days were more spread out before live BP was held.

“Players knew coming in that’s how it would be. Things change, right?” manager David Bell said. “That’s one of the things that has changed over time. Guys are prepared for that and knew what to expect. It’s part of how we see this, just about being efficient. It’s difficult for anybody, when you have extra time, it takes you out of the present moment and it’s hard to focus for that long. When you’re more on task, it’s easier to stay in the moment.”

Votto pays tribute to Blue Jays great
A Toronto native and Blue Jays fan growing up, Reds first baseman Joey Votto, offered a tribute to the late Tony Fernandez on his cap during Wednesday’s workout.

Written in marker, Votto’s message said, “RIP Tony. My Dad and I loved you.”

Fernandez, who played on Toronto’s back-to-back World Series championship teams in 1992 and '93, and for the Reds in ’94, died on Sunday from complications of his kidney disease. He was 57 years old.

“My condolences to his family,” Votto said. “My father and I would watch the Blue Jays play. My father and I liked Devon White, but Tony was this slick guy, a guy who had this great personality and hitting style that was just so distinct. He had a style of defense that was also distinct. It was such a treat. Everybody seemed to like him.

“It’s sad that he passed away. I just wanted to show my appreciation and let Toronto know I was raised watching him, loving him and supporting that team. You’re not close to these people but you feel close to them in some way. It’s certainly sad.”

Dietrich competing for a spot
Much like 2019, when he signed a Minor League contract with the Reds after camp opened, Derek Dietrich will have to earn his place on the club as a non-roster player this spring. He can play first base, second base and left field.

Dietrich was taken off the 40-man roster after last season, when he batted .187/.328/.462 with 19 home runs and 43 RBIs over 113 games. He had just one homer after the All-Star break as he struggled with a left shoulder injury that required surgery.

“You don’t know exactly what the path would be for him to break with our team,” Bell said. “Like we say, things work out the way they are supposed to. He’s going to do everything he can to be ready for that.

“The good thing is we know who he is. It’ll be good to see him -- we know he’s healthy -- healthy on the field. There is no question that his injury affected him, for sure, on some level for the second half of the year.”

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.