By HAL McCOY
Repeat loudly and emphatically: “Spring exhibitions mean nothing, spring exhibitions mean nothing, spring exhibitions mean nothing.”
Now, do you believe it?
USA Today, with spring training exhibition games less than half completed, predicted the Cincinnati Reds would finish last this season in the National League Central.
Maybe they figure the Reds have squatter’s rights on last place. Maybe they didn’t notice all the positive maneuvering the Reds did in the off-season. Maybe they figure the NL Central is just too good for the Reds.
If you believe in what happens in spring exhibition games is important, and most people don’t, then perhaps they are correct.
On Sunday afternoon in Goodyear, Ariz., the Reds lost their fourth straight game and haven’t looked like a winner in any of them. And they are 4-and-10 this spring.
Of the three starting pitchers the Reds acquired in the off-season, Tanner Roark has been the best, until Sunday.
Facing the Arizona Diamondbacks, he was nearly spotless in three innings — one base runner (a single) and five strikeouts. But in the fourth inning he gave up a walk and three hits, including a three-run home run to Caleb Jospeh, enough to produce a 3-2 Diamondbacks victory.
Of immediate concern are the back issues bothering Alex Wood. After his first start this spring his back tightened up. He took treatment and then on Saturday he pitched in a simulated game against teammates.
As general manager Nick Krall said on Fox Sports Ohio, “It didn’t go well.” His back tightened up again and he took a shot Sunday morning.
The Reds played San Diego on Saturday and Sonny Gray was on-game with two innings during which he gave up no runs, two hits, walked none and struck out three.
The Reds led, 2-0, until the seventh when Jose Reyes loaded the bases and gave up a cloud-scraping grand slam home run to Francisco Mejia. The Padres added two more and scored a 6-2 victory.
On Friday, the Reds got a dose of Billy Hamilton, the center fielder they released after last season. The Kansas City Royals signed him and he was a pain and a thorn.
He singled in the first inning and scored a run. He singled home a run in the second and scored again.
Phillip Ervin, doing his best to win the center field job, although he is third choice behind Nick Senzel and Scott Schebler, hit a two-run home run in the first. But the Reds lost, 8-3. It was a day during which the Reds had three hits.
On Thursday, Luis Castillo continued his early spring struggles during an 11-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Castillo needed 54 pitches to get through two-plus innings as he continued to need GPS to find home plate.
In those two innings he gave up two runs, three hits, walked two and struck out four.
Tim Adleman, a former member of the rotation and a long shot to even make the team this season, gave up a two-run home run, but he wasn’t as bad as the still-struggling Brandon Finnegan, another guy who probably won’t make the team.
Finnegan gave up four runs in the eighth inning, including a long home run, and the Mariners buried the Reds, 11-3.
Besides the early concern about the pitching, the offense hasn’t been the rocket’s red glare that it looks as if it should be on paper.
In those last four games they have scored 3, 3, 2 and 2 runs — 10 runs in 36 innings.
As former managers Davey Johnson and Dusty Baker always said, “Spring training performances and numbers will always fool you.”
For what is happening right now, Reds fans hope they are right.