By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Despite losing 94 games and finishing last in the National League Central for the second straight year — and next-to-last in attendance in the entire National League — how hard does one have to search to find positives surrounding the Cincinnati Reds?
It was a question put to manager Bryan Price before the Reds concluded the 2017 season Sunday afternoon. Price, a positive guy, always takes the Norman Vincent Peale approach, ‘The Power of Positive Thinking.’
That was before the finale against the Chicago Cubs was a microcosm of the entire season. The Reds lost, 7-4, when they had a 4-3 lead with two outs and nobody on in the top of the ninth.
Raisel Iglesias, one out away from finishing the season on the upbeat, walked the next hitter and before getting the final out gave up four runs, including a two-run pinch-hit home run by Miguel Montero.
How apropos is that to finish this season, a season in which the Reds made a four-game improvement from their 98-loss 2015 season?
So the question was put to Price, “What did he appreciate and take positive away from this baseball derailment?”
One might expect him to say the Incredible Mr. Votto, or the emergence of pitchers Dan Straily and Anthony DeSclafani, or the bullpen success of Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias after a first half of bullpen blasphemy, or the performances of Adam Duvall, Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler.
But he didn’t. And what he appreciated most is somewhat of a shock. But then what he talked about probably saved his job.
“The thing that stands out the most for me, and this might sound ridiculous, goes back to a period in April and May when we weren’t winning many games,” he said. “We were losing in similar fashion – either scoring a lot of runs and giving up a lot of runs, or not scoring a lot of runs and giving up a lot of runs. Our pitching wasn’t very good.
“But the guys played their tails off,” he said. “If you look at it, we had guys like Devin Mesoraco, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Jay Bruce. We had veterans in there and my concern on the front end of the season was if we got off to a slow start how would the veterans respond.”
Would they quit or would they try harder? For most, they tried harder when they could play. But Mesoraco was lost for the season early, Cozart and Phillips struggled with injuries all season, Bruce was traded.
“Nobody wants to be a veteran guy sitting through a long season where you aren’t winning much,” said Price. “But those guys, to their credit, just stayed locked in. You hope that there is help on the way, but we realized there really wasn’t. We knew that any help, if there was any, would have to come from our own system. So it would be rookies.”
Price, an intelligent man and a graduate of Cal-Berkeley paused for words and couldn’t find any and finally resorted to a cliche, whih he seldom uses but acknowledged.
“I know it’s a cliche, but the veterans kept their noses to the grindstone (wouldn’t that hurt a lot?) and continued to prepare hard and play hard. I admire that a great deal. That is the highlight to me because it helpes when we did get some healthier and better players. It helped us have what equates to a .500 second half (37-36), which isn’t necessarily a benchmark. But for a team playing 25 games under .500 at the time, playing .500 from there on is a pretty big deal.”
PRICE HAD ANOTHER SURPRISE when he enumerated his second ‘Appreciation Award.’ It went to second baseman Brandon Phillips. The Reds twice had him traded but because the other team wouldn’t re-negotiate his contract, Phillips invoked his 10-and-5 no-trade rights and stayed with the Reds.
“I appreciate seeing how Brandon Phillips handled things after everything that happened last year and how he bounced back and had a very producitive year,” said Price. Phillips, nagged by a plethora of assorted injuries, played 141 games and hit .291 with 11 homers, 64 RBI, 74 runs and 14 stolen bases.
“To see him thrilled to still be here and to have the season he had, well, there could have been some animosity with everything that happened with the attempt to trade him,” said Price. “He handled that really well and had a terrific season.”
Price, though, couldn’t be thrilled with another shaky start Sunday by rookie Robert Stephenson, even though he turned a 4-2 lead over to the bullpen after four innings.
Stephenson gave up five walks in those four innings, a problem that seems to follow him like a lengthy shadown. And he gave up four hits during an 88-pitch outing with four strikeouts