By Hal McCoy
Like current-day travelers during the pandemic, travel distances by major league baseballs this season were supposed to be limited.
MLB allegedly toned down the baseballs so they wouldn’t leave the playing field like launched space shuttles.
Don’t try to tell that to Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Tejay Antone.
He watched baseballs easily clear spring training walls. He watched his team and the St. Louis Cardinals hit 11 home runs in a three-game weekend series, six by the Reds, five by the Cardinals.
“With these balls, anything can happen. The scores have been outrageous,” he said. “To me, the feel doesn’t feel any different from last year.
“And I’m watching these balls fly and they look like they are going a long way,” he added. “MLB said they toned them down but. . .a lot of home runs in spring training and a lot of home runs so far. . .a lot of high-scoring games.”
Antone watched two mammoth home runs by Nick Castellanos, a downrange shot by Aristides Aquino and a cumulus-scraper by Tyler Naquin.
“They are not just getting out, they are going, going and goin,” said Antone, the Reds’ No. 5 draft pick in 2014..
An amazing thing, as a pitcher, Antone should despise home runs, unless the guy hitting them is in the same uniform you wear.
“I’m cool with it, I love home runs,” he said. “Juice the balls all you want.” And he laughed heartily.
Antone entered spring training as a rotation candidate but lost out and was plopped into the bullpen. He doesn’t mind, especially since his fastball is blazing homeward at 99 miles an hour.
“I never thought I’d be one of the harder throwers on the team. . .ever,” he said. “Coming out of the minors last year I understand that I was throwing a little bit harder. That helps my other stuff play.”
And at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, the righthander out of TCU should be able to break baseball’s sound barrier.
His other stuff is his beloved slider and a tricky curveball.
“Now my fastball is even harder than last year,” he said. “I’m still learning how to navigate that, make adjustments in my arsenal as how to attack hitters.
“Ninety-nine is pretty firm and part of me says I won’t have to rely so much on my slider,” he continued. “At the same time, I love my slider, I trust it, and I trust my curveball, as you saw Sunday.”
Antone arrived Sunday in the sixth inning, asked to protect starter Jeff Hoffman’s 4-1 lead. Immediate trouble surfaced — a walk and an infield hit, putting two on with no outs.
Then he squirmed out of it while facing the filet mignon of the St. Louis lineup. He turned it into well-done. Paul Goldschmidt flied to center, Nolan Arenada flied to shallow right and Paul DeJong, who already had two home runs in the first two games, took a 3-and-2 curve for strike three.
And Antone did a celebratory jig off the mound.
“At the time it was still a pretty close game,” he said. “Games can turn around quick. It was a very import mid-game hold. I was happy to get out of there clean. It wasn’t the prettiest of innings in the world. But I got out of there with no runs.”
The game never turned around. The Reds turned it into a full-blown rout, winning, 12-1.
“I helped get my offense off the field because I know they are going to do damage. They are nasty right now,” said Antone.
One of the nastiest right now is Nick Castellanos. He has two homers, including the a three-run rip Sunday that broke a 1-1 tie. That was after he tripled and scored his team’s first run to make it 1-1.
Castellanos, though, was informed Monday that MLB ia suspending him for two games after his part in Saturday’s skirmish. He is appealing the suspension and was in Monday’s lineup.
Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez drew fines for their parts, while Cardinals pitcher Jordan Hicks, catcher Yadier Molina and third baseman Nolan Arenado were fined.
Reds manager David Bell did not want to address the issue during his pre-game Zoom meeting with the media, but issued a statement that said: “I am disappointed that Nick was suspended, even though he did not initiate physical contact. I am hoping that when baseball is played with emotion, the players will be protected from the dangers and unnecessary retaliation.”
Bell was implying that Castellanos was hit in the rib cage by a 93 miles an hour fastball Saturday because he flipped his bat and skipped a few steps toward first base after hitting a home run.
As do all of Castellanos’ teammates, Antone loves everything about the guy. Asked about Castellanos, Antone paused to gather up enough adjectives.
“Oh, man. That’s a great question,” he said. “My parents asked me about him last night. Uh. . .he. . .uh, as a player on my team, he is really fun to have. He is that competitor, he is going to give it all he’s got. If I was on the other team, I would hate him. I would just hate that guy. He is annoying because he fights on every at bat. He is animated with his actions. I love to have him on my team, I’ll tell you that much.”
Opponents hate him? It seems the Cardinals are at least a bit disturbed by him.