Well, another Opening Day has come and gone. The Reds drew a tough assignment in Brandon Webb and the Diamondbacks so you can't draw too many inferences, but a few observations.
1) Dusty passed his first big test, as Aaron Harang was only allowed to throw 99 pitches.
Joe Posnanski recently wrote an interesting article about young pitchers, workload, and 300 wins. In it, Posnanski talks about C.C. Sabathia and the likelihood that he'll reach 300 wins. He illustrates how rare it is that a young starting pitcher who racks up a lot of wins at a young age will go on to win 300 games.
Posnanski talks about the success of some young pitchers and then goes on to discuss innings pitched for these young guys, a discussion that inevitably turns to Dusty Baker, Mark Prior, and Kerry Wood. He goes on to state the obvious, that Prior and Wood were heavily overworked. That's nothing new and doesn't really need to be rehashed, but the interesting thing is that Posnanski doesn't believe that that kind of abuse of young pitchers would be tolerated in the present game. I tend to think he's right.
It really hasn't been that long since Baker managed the Cubs, but Posnanski is right in that the entire baseball culture has really changed. You could see signs of it when the hiring of Baker was announced. You could see signs of it in the scrutiny of the hiring by the Cincinnati media.
At the time of the hire, about the only thing that gave me comfort about handing over young pitchers to Dusty was that the increased scrutiny from the media might FORCE him to change his managerial style. I have no illusions that Dusty would change on his own, but the spotlight from the scrutiny that would result would likely be too hot even for Dusty to handle.
The early returns are good, but I really don't think the fans, media, or front office would tolerate heavy workloads on the starting pitchers. The baseball culture and mindset have evolved to the point that it won't be tolerated any longer.
2) Scott Hatteberg got the nod over Joey Votto.
Again, it's one game, so maybe this doesn't mean anything, but it has to be noted. Dusty went with the veteran over the young guy.
At this point, Votto isn't a young prospect any more. The bloom isn't off the rose by any stretch of the imagination, but it's time for him to get his opportunity. This is his 24/25 year old season and he doesn't have anything left to prove in the minors. He tore the cover off the ball in the minors last year and carried it over to the majors in September last year.
Don't get me wrong, I love Scott Hatteberg. He may have the best plate approach of any hitter in baseball and I wish I could graft that approach onto every Reds hitters. His control of the zone matches that of any hitter in baseball. That said, at this point, Votto's DOWNSIDE is likely equivalent to Hatteberg's UPSIDE.
Unfortunately, both are left handed hitters, so a platoon isn't a viable option. So, in short, it has to be one or the other. At this point in their careers, it's clear that it has to be Votto. He's got more power and almost comparable on base skills. Hatteberg is only going to get worse, while Votto is only going to get better.
The Reds need to plug Votto into the starting lineup and let him play. Any plan to share playing time is going to be detrimental to the Reds and Votto. I love Hatteberg, but like all first basemen without power, the time inevitably comes when they no longer make sense for the team. A younger, better option comes along and it's time to part ways with the established player.
That time has now come for Hatteberg and the Reds.
The Votto era has begun.
3) Edwin started out with an error.
Edwin had a terrible spring, which isn't a good sign. I don't put much stock in spring training stats, but I would've preferred a strong spring from Edwin.
From my point of view, it's truly "put up or shut up" time from Edwin. I've heard all the excuses and, in fact, used to subscribe to them. Edwin had been bounced in and out of lineup so often by the manager that he had diminished confidence and tentative play. That all sounds well and good, but at some point it's up to Edwin to grab every opportunity to prove his worth. Guys like Jeff Keppinger and Brandon Phillips make the most of every chance they get. Phillips grabbed the second base job and never looked back. Keppinger has given the Reds no choice but to keep him on the roster and, in fact, he's making a strong case for a starting job.
Then, we get back to Edwin, who makes the least of his opportunities. No more excuses, it's time for Edwin to prove his worth.
4) The Reds may have something with their late inning relievers.
The Reds have been undone by their bullpen the last few seasons, so to see fairly smooth sailing from the 7th (Burton), 8th (Weathers), and 9th (Cordero) is more than a little encouraging. True, Burton gave up a solo homerun, but these three could provide some much needed stability in the late innings.
Burton was truly dominating in the second half last year and his ability to maintain that kind of production would have a huge impact for the Reds this year. People studying the new Pitch Data have drawn comparisons between Burton's fastball and Mariano Rivera's famous cut fastball.
All in all, the bullpen is off to a good start. If the Reds could hold onto late inning leads, then it would go a long way towards building up team morale and improving the W/L record.
At this point, things are looking up.