OBSERVATIONS: Early-Season Reds Report

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave still hacking my head off after bringing home a persistent cough from Europe.

—REDS REPORT: It is a small sample, only 31 games, but it is apparent the Cincinnati Reds are better than advertised.

That isn’t to say they’ll finish above .500, they won’t, but they won’t lose 100 games this season. The roster is underwhelming but it is overachieving, if a 13-18 record is overachieving.

Give them a C+ for performance and an A+ for effort. They actually are entertaining to watch because they are playing real baseball. It is almost like they can say, “We’re not a winning team, but we did stay at a Holiday Inn Express.”

They have no home run power, so they keep doing things to manufacture runs — they hustle, they are aggressive on the basepaths and in chasing fly balls and line drives with diving, sliding catches.

They are short on power and short on pitching. The young rotation of Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft is invigoratiing and stuffed with potential, but still inconsistent, which is to be expected. Right now, just call them Faith, Hope and Charity.

The bullpen is better than expected, but still has its moments of blowing up games.

Mostly, they take Jim Valvano’s advice, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” And they don’t, which is why they’ve rescued several games in their last at bats. And it’s why they lead baseball in runs scored after the eighth inning with 41.

They play hard, harder and hardest, particularly Jonathan India, TJ Friedl and Jake Fraley, three guys who never bang the drum slowly.

—NO HOPE: A little known fact. . .as a young man, comedian Bob Hope was a boxer in the Cleveland area. As a pugilist he had no hope. He said his boxing nickname was Rembrandt, “Because I spent so much time on the canvas.

—SHOHEI THE SHOWMAN: The operating mandate for managers these days is to not let his starting pitcher face the opposing lineup three times. Analytics, of course, tell them that and they follow it like lemmings.

But, despite Connie Francis singing to us that there are no execeptions to the rules, there are always exceptions.

And the exception to not letting a pitcher face a lineup three times is Shohei Ohtani. Of course he is the pachyderm on the mound.

To start the season, hitters facing Ohtani for the third time in a game were 0 for 24 with 15 strikeouts.

Oh, and while he is at it, he is 4-0 with a 1.85 earned run average and 46 strikeouts in 34 innings. As one man put it, “He is the Chuck Norris of baseball.” Hey, not even Norris could hit Ohtani the first or second time up, let alone the third.

There are many showboats without a boat in baseball these days. Ohtani is a yacht.

—ONE SIZE FITS ALL: There was an MLB equipment manager who always handed a rookie a hat too large for the player’s head.

When the rookie said, “Hey, this hat’s too large for my head, the equipment manager said, “That’s right. And make sure it stays that way.”

—LIGHT ‘EM UP: Wonder what the big deal was about the first MLB night game, played in Cincinnati’s Crosley Field on May 25, 1935, a game the Reds won, 2-1, over the Phillies.

By the time that game was played, 65 minor league teams were playing night games under permanent lighting in their stadiums.

The actual first night game in organized baseball was played in Independence, Kansas, on April 28, 1930. The Class C Independence Producers should have pulled the plug on their Shulthis Stadium lights early in the game. They lost, 13-3, to the Muskogee Chiefs.

—UDDERLY HUMOROUS: Just when you think you’ve heard it all, the Wisconsin TimberRattlers of the High-A Midwest League (where the Dayton Dragons play) leaps to the top of the list.

For one game, and one game only, on June 20 they are changing their name to the Wisconsin Udder Tuggers. As they cay, we can’t make this stuff up.

It is a tribue to the state’s dairy cows and the team offered Udder Tuggers gear. They sold out in five hours and are re-stocking.

They should keep the name permanently, milk it for all its worth, so to speak.

—OUT OF SIGHT: Faithful reader David Zeller wants to know, “What is the status of Joey Votto? Will we see him this year?”

Right now it is out of sight, out of mind and Votto probably prefers it that way. Votto continues his rehab assignment at Class AAA Louisville and it is a monumental struggle after his Tommy John surgery and shoulder repair in November.

At last check, he has batted 38 and struck out 21 times. His slash line is an ugly .184/.289/.316. He has the one home run he hit on the first pitch of his first at bat, two doubles, five RBI and six walks.

Suffice it to way his rehab from Tommy John and shoulder surgery hasn’t gone as well as Philadephia’s Bryce Harper, back with the Phillies after TJ surgery, also in November.

—LOCK ‘EM UP: Some things you never think about that boggle your mind. During our 18-day Viking cruise up the Danube and Rhine Rivers, our vessel, the Vidar, passed through 66 locks between Vienna, Austria and Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

It was fascinating to watch the ship raised and lowered whille inside the locks and we passed over Europe’s Continental Divide at Bachhausen in Germany’a breath-takingly picturesque Bavarian region.

We weren’t singing Tom Petty’s ‘Change the Locks’ as we passed through them all.

—GORDON IS GONE: Oh, life, please slow down. We keep losing the legends of my time. Gordon Lightfoot was the latest to leave us and with heavy heart I spent half-a-morning listening to Sundown, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and If You Could Read My Mind. It reminds me of the George Jones song, ‘Who’ Gonna Fill Their Shoes?’

Jerry Springer, the Shlock Show host and former Cincinnati mayor left us, too. He showed up one day at the Reds spring training camp when they trained in Sarasota and they permitted him to take a few batting practice swings.

Coach Tom Hume lobbed him a few pitches and he either swung and missed or hit a couple of dribblers back to the mound. Ken Griffey Jr. watched for as long as he could take it and finally yelled, “Hey, Jerry, keep you day job.”

And that he did.

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