By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Are there any more questions about why 40-year-old Bronson Arroyo occupies a spot in the Cincinnati Reds rotation or are there any more comments about Arroyo hogging a roster spot for no apparent reason?
Arroyo put on a pitching tutorial Sunday afternoon against the mighty, mighty, mighty Chicago Cubs in Great American Ball Park.
Not only was it a performance that the young pitchers with the Reds should have watched intently, they should have taken copious notes.
Arroyo’s message, as exhibited on the mound was: “This is how you do it. It is not necessary to try to throw a baseball through unbreakable glass. It is only necessary to throw strike after strike after strike after strike and permit a free-swinging team like the Cubs get themselves out.”
THROWING AN ASSORTMENT OF soggy donut pitches ranging between 65 and 86 miles an hour from 15 arm angles and 15 arm slots, Arroyo held the Cubs to two runs and three hits over six innings. And the Reds rescued the final game of the three-game series, 7-5.
Arroyo retired the first 10 in a row. In the first inning he threw 14 pitches, 13 for strikes. After three perfect innings he had thrown 23 pitches, 20 for strikes.
He struck out the side in the fifth. In the sixth he struck out Kyle Schwarber on a 76 miles an hour pitch and struck out Kris Bryant on a 74 miles an hour pitch.
He actually warmed up on the mound before each inning, but it wasn’t necessary. He was wasting bullets and the pitches he threw in games were like batting practice deliveries.
EXCEPT HE HAD THE CUBS dragging their bats back to the dugouts muttering things like, “I can’t believe we can’t hit this guy.”
And that’s the way it has always been for baseball’s version of a Frisbee thrower. Or, as Arroyo described it, “Going to war without that great of a gun.”
How DOES he do it?
“How can I perform on this level with limited stuff?” he said. “I pitch outside the box a bit and I have a very unique set of skills that isn’t necessarily whatever everyone else has. I can throw some very awkward-looking and strange-shaped pitches in any given count.
“It gives me the opportunity to make guys feel uncomfortable at the plate and never really settle in at the plate,” he added. “That’s the way I’ve performed my entire career, so just because my velocity has diminished it doesn’t hurt me. My curveball velocity hasn’t diminished and that’s a funny thing. My fastball is down a bit but I can still throw the breaking ball at 78 and I never really threw it harder than that. I can still spin the ball at a good enough rate to make guys uncomfortable.
“It’s all about savvy and what you’ve acquired over the years,” he said.
Arroyo’s mother named him after rugged, villainous movie star Charles Bronson, who once said, “Audiences like to see the bad guys get their comeuppance.”
Arroyo, though, is nothing but the best of the good guys and it is difficult not to blatantly root for his success, especially after he missed nearly three years with arm and shoulder problems.
In an effort to return to the game, he told the Reds to fill in any numbers they wanted on a contract and he’d sign it, which they did and he did. And the naysayers were rampant on social media when Arroyo struggled during his first two starts while he re-set and re-tuned his pitching mechanics.
And he still isn’t back to where he was in 2013 when he was a 14-game winner with a 3.79 ERA.
“My arm feels fine and normal when I start the game,” he said. “But there are some irregularities still in there and it hurts as the game progresses. In between starts I can barely touch a baseball. But I think I can work that out of there and if I do I can be what I was in 2013.”
THE REDS SCORED A RUN in the first inning against Cubs start John Lackey. Billy Hamilton singled and on the first two pitches to Jose Peraza he stole second and third. He scored on Joey Votto’s sacrifice fly.
Scott Schebler, 1 for his last 20, cracked a two-out solo home run in the second to make it 2-0.
The Cubs scored their only runs off Arroyo in the fourth when Kris Bryant singled and Anthony Rizzo hit his third homer in three days against the Reds, tying the game, 2-2.
Scooter Gennett’s double and Schebler’s single broke the tie and gave the Reds a 3-2 lead in the fourth, only Schebler’s second two-hit game of the season.
The Reds broke it apart in the sixth when the first four batters of the inning reached and all four scored. Patrick Kivlehan, a late insertion into the lineup, cleared the full bases with a three-run double.
SO AFTER LOSING THE FIRST two to the World Series champions, the Reds turned to a 40-year-old guy coming off a three-year hiatus to be the stopper.
“In the past, I loved being the guy taking the ball after we’d lost three or four in a row,” he said. “You always want to be the guy who can stop the bleeding. But being in the position I’m in now, you have the champs at the plate and they also ran a nice lefthanded lineup out there against us, it was a hell of a win.”
And one hell of a comeback by a true craftsman took another step forward.