Reds prospect Iglesias makes debut in AFL

Cuban right-hander, 24, throws perfect inning in first US appearance

Reds prospect Iglesias makes debut in AFL

MESA, Ariz. -- Cross one challenge off the list for Raisel Iglesias.

Iglesias, a highly touted Cuban pitcher signed by the Reds in June, made his first appearance stateside Monday when he pitched a scoreless inning in the Arizona Fall League. Iglesias, pitching for the Surprise Saguaros, retired all three batters he faced in a 6-5 win over the Mesa Solar Sox.

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The 24-year-old threw 10 pitches -- eight for strikes -- and he's expected to pitch once more for Surprise on Tuesday before departing for Winter League action in Puerto Rico. The gregarious right-hander spoke briefly after his appearance with teammate Carlos Gonzalez serving as interpreter.

"I tried to keep my emotions down and under control," said Iglesias. "I was fine."

He may have been fine in his head, but he was even better on the mound. Iglesias got a popup from the first batter he faced, and the second hitter grounded a ball right back to the box. Iglesias fell behind 2-1 on his third batter, but he worked back into the count and closed his outing with a strikeout.

All of that may have been anticlimactic for Iglesias, who signed a seven-year contract worth $27 million with the Reds in the summer. The Cuban native defected from his homeland in November 2013, and he established residency in Haiti before signing with Cincinnati.

Iglesias was able to reunite with family in Miami before coming to Arizona, and his stint in the AFL is short but memorable. Iglesias met all of his teammates for the first time recently, and he said it was a brief adjustment period before he felt comfortable as just another member of the team.

"I was a little shy and timid at first, but now I'm really cool with everybody," he said. "It's good to make adjustments here. Once you start the season, you're more relaxed and you're ready."

Iglesias was wearing No. 47 in the AFL, but he said there was no significance to the number. When he took the mound on Monday, he briefly stood with his back to home plate and surveyed the outfield alignment. And then, after savoring the moment, he got down to business.

Iglesias faced three prospects -- Jacob Hannemann, Boog Powell and Chad Hinshaw -- in his brief outing. He worked the sixth inning, and he took the mound with his team holding a 6-3 lead. Iglesias, who can throw four pitches, didn't get a chance to work out his full arsenal.

"I felt really good," he said. "I took it like a normal game and just went out and did my job. I asked the team for a little rest, I got a little rest, and then I got ready, came out here and felt really good."

Iglesias signed a big league deal with the Reds and may get a chance to pitch at Great American Ball Park in 2015, but he'll always recall his first game at Cubs Park in Mesa. It was brief and uneventful, but it was also a milestone, and he hopes it's the first of many.

"I felt good out here," he said of his outing. "And it's impressive, but I can handle it."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Reds dismiss third-base coach; rest of staff remains intact

Steve Smith is out as Reds third-base coach, the team announced Monday while saying the rest of the staff would remain intact.

Returning to manager Bryan Price's coaching staff will be bench coach Jay Bell, hitting coach Don Long, assistant hitting coach Lee Tinsley, pitching coach Jeff Pico, bullpen coach Mack Jenkins, first-base coach Billy Hatcher, catching coach Mike Stefanski and coach Freddie Benavides.

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Smith was let go after only one season in Cincinnati, in which the Reds led the Major Leagues with 28 non-force outs at home plate, including at least 10 runners waved home by Smith on hits.

"I was the fall guy," Smith told the Cincinnati Enquirer, which first reported his dismissal on Monday afternoon. "I don't want to sound like I'm being critical -- I loved my one year with Cincinnati, loved the players, loved everything."

Price defended Smith from criticism in September, citing the Reds' second-half offensive struggles for employing a more aggressive baserunning approach. That led to a more liberal use of the contact play, Price said, and to Smith being more apt to send runners home when he had an opportunity to force opposing teams to make a play.

 "I don't listen to any of that stuff," Price said last month. "[Previous third-base coach] Mark Berry talked about people in our ballpark getting on him a lot about decisions that he made. A lot of those decisions, No. 1, are made by the manager; a lot of them are consistent baseball decisions that are made around the big leagues, and it doesn't matter if it's Dusty Baker or Bryan Price or if it's Bobby Cox or if it's any of these other guys."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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After disappointment, Villarreal works way back to bigs

Righty played in three games before '14, but excelled after switch to 'pen

After disappointment, Villarreal works way back to bigs

CINCINNATI -- With only three Major League games behind him in 2013, Reds pitcher Pedro Villarreal didn't know if he would ever get another chance. As September callups were being summoned that season, it sure didn't look good for Villarreal when he was instead outrighted off of the 40-man roster.

Villarreal, who had been in big league camp at Spring Training in previous years and debuted with one Major League appearance in 2012, wasn't even invited this past spring after remaining in the organization. He stayed on the Minor League side, but more importantly, never gave up on himself while pitching at Triple-A Louisville.

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"It was a big disappointment to me, personally, getting taken off of the roster," Villarreal said recently. "Reality set in. I had to earn it back. That's what I focused on this year -- going out there, having a good year and let the cards fall where they fall and see what happens.

"Luckily, I got another opportunity to come back up here and help the team."

During a stretch run that saw the Reds nosedive out of contention, the right-handed Villarreal was a positive development for the club. With the bullpen struggling this season and a question mark for 2015, his performance has put him in the mix to compete for a role at camp next spring.

In 12 relief appearances after his Aug. 21 callup, Villarreal was 0-2 with a 4.30 ERA and 12 strikeouts, allowing 11 hits and seven walks over 14 2/3 innings. He left all 11 inherited base runners stranded and retired 11 of 12 first batters he faced.

A seventh-round pick by the Reds in the 2008 Draft, Villarreal posted a 12.71 ERA in two games in 2013. His line included being roughed up by the Rockies for six earned runs and 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings in an emergency spot start on June 5, 2013. As he also struggled to start for Louisville, the organization switched him to the bullpen midway through that season.

"Just the amount of time you have to get ready is the biggest change I had to get used to," Villarreal said of the adjustment to being a reliever. "I talked to a lot of guys, to be honest. They said you had to be into the game all the time, mentally ready for than anything. It's easy that when they call your number, the adrenaline kicks in and you get loose and your body gets going. You stay ready because you never know."

This season, working almost entirely as a reliever, Villarreal was 6-2 with a 3.20 ERA in 42 games (two starts) for Louisville. Over 56 1/3 innings, he allowed 57 hits and 13 walks while striking out 50.

"When you're off the roster, you kind of have to find ways to stand out," Villarreal said. "You can't just be the average bullpen guy. Make somebody notice you down there."

Villarreal, who turns 27 in December, will keep working out at home in Texas to prepare himself for whatever comes his way in the spring.

"I'm going to do the exact same as last year," he said. "Hopefully I give myself a good opportunity."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Winker earns AFL Player of the Week nod

Reds prospect hit .455 with a homer, two doubles, seven RBIs to open Fall League play

Winker earns AFL Player of the Week nod

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Twenty years ago, there was a young man who played in the Arizona Fall League named Derek Jeter, and in 2014, he retired from the Majors having had an impact on many younger players who followed in his footsteps. One of those younger guys is Jesse Winker, a prospect for the Cincinnati Reds who is in the AFL with the Surprise Saguaros.

Winker does not play shortstop, as Jeter did. He is an outfielder, primarily a left fielder. But the 21-year-old tries to emulate Jeter in the way he approaches the game and the way he carries himself.

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"As a kid, I was a big Derek Jeter fan,'' Winker said on Monday. "Just the way he went about things. This year was pretty cool, watching all the retirement stuff for ol' No. 2.''

Whether Winker reaches a similar pinnacle as the legendary New York Yankee remains to be seen. But he is off to a good start, having been selected as this season's first AFL Player of the Week.

The left-handed hitter produced a .455 batting average out of the gate (5-for-11), with a home run, two doubles, a league-leading seven RBIs, four walks and four runs scored. He also leads the league in slugging percentage (.909) and OPS (1.472).

Other nominees who had a strong opening week were Scottsdale Scorpions first baseman Greg Bird (Yankees), Peoria Javelinas shortstop Francisco Lindor (Indians), Salt River Rafters catcher Peter O'Brien (D-backs) and Surprise first baseman Kyle Waldrop (Reds).

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Winker is listed as baseball's No. 40 prospect by MLB.com and the second-best prospect for the Reds, who selected him No. 49 overall in the Compensation A Round in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.

Winker said playing in the Fall League "has been a great experience so far. You are playing against the different teams with new guys. You're meeting a lot of guys and learning a lot. I don't think you can match this kind of experience anywhere else.''

Just like when he moved from Class A Advanced Bakersfield to Double-A Pensacola in the summer of 2014, Winker has noticed the increased abilities of the players in the AFL.

"The hitting and the pitching are better, and the defense is a whole lot better,'' he said. "A lot of balls that fall for hits don't always happen when you go to a higher level. The guys are getting there and making plays.''

While Winker's trademark is his ability to swing the bat, he likes to think he plays better than adequate defense. For those who might be detractors, he wants to change their minds.

"I have always believed I was a solid defender,'' Winker said. "I think I am getting better every day, I have learned a lot and hope to learn a lot more while I am here.''

When he steps into the batter's box, Winker says it is his goal "to put together a good at-bat every time. I would say I am a gap hitter with power, but I'm not up there swinging for the fence.''

Winker has put up decent power numbers in his three Minor League seasons -- a combined 36 homers, 54 doubles and 168 RBIs.

If he is struggling with the bat, Winker likes to "go back to basics, keep it simple and not try to think too much.''

It always has been his dream to reach the Major Leagues. An older brother, Joe, played Minor League ball in the Dodgers' chain for a few years before retiring.

"My family knows how important this is to me, and they have done everything they could to put me in a position to succeed,'' Winker said.

Don Ketchum is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Howard hones starting skills in Arizona Fall League

Reds' 2014 first-round pick works on transition from college closer

Howard hones starting skills in Arizona Fall League

MESA, Ariz. -- Nick Howard made his first appearance on the mound in 2014 back on Feb. 16. Little did he know, he'd still be pitching eight months later under very different circumstances.

In between, Howard has had a whirlwind of a year. He spent his junior year as the closer for the University of Virginia, one of the best college programs in the country. A year that saw him save 20 games, post a 1.91 ERA and .177 opponents' batting average was good enough for the Reds to take him No. 19 overall in the First-Year Player Draft this June. He then helped Virginia make it to the College World Series finals, though he was tagged with the loss that gave Vanderbilt the title.

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Howard made his pro debut a month later with Dayton in the full-season Midwest League. Eleven appearances there led to instructs, which led to the Arizona Fall League.

"I had the chance to go home for a week," Howard said. "It was good to see my family and let everything sink in for a while.

"This whole year has been a dream come true. If someone had told me I would've been in Omaha and now I'm playing in the AFL, I'd say, 'Wake up from your dream.' It's been a lot of fun and it's been a crazy year."

There's little question that Howard could be a quick-to-the-big-leagues short reliever with a power fastball and outstanding slider. But the Reds believe the big right-hander has the stuff to start and will let him work on that, thinking it's a lot more difficult to develop a guy who can throw 200 innings than one who can pitch out of the bullpen.

"We see no reason he can't start," Reds scouting director Chris Buckley said. "He was one of Virginia's weekend starters as a sophomore, and he did start in the Cape Cod League.

"If we wanted to, we could've gone the route Kansas City did with Brandon Finnegan. We know he can pitch late in the game with power stuff. But let's see if he can do it. We think he can do it. If not, he's a late-inning 'pen guy."

Buckley points to Howard's intelligence, feel for pitching and athleticism -- he was a position player at Virginia as well -- as reasons why the Reds think he can stick in a rotation. While he relied mostly on his fastball-slider combination as a closer, he'd shown signs of a curve, and his work since joining the organization, particularly in instructs, has enabled him to vastly improve his changeup.

"The first couple of times out there, especially in Dayton, I was relieving, so I was used to that," said Howard, who went 2-1 with a 3.74 ERA in 33 2/3 innings with Dayton over 11 outings, five of them starts. "The first couple of starts was a little trial and error, seeing what works, little things like seeing how much time it takes to warm up before the game, things like that. There is a little adjusting. I know I've done it before. Once I'm out there, it's just pitching."

Howard made his AFL debut last Friday, going three innings and allowing two runs on four hits while striking out three. The results are almost secondary at this point, with Howard just thrilled to get the chance to throw against a higher level of competition than he's ever faced.

"It was pretty easy to get the adrenaline going," Howard said. "I was very excited to get the opportunity to start out here. When you're going against guys like this, you have to bring your 'A' game, at least mentally if you don't have it physically."

This model of development isn't foreign to the Reds. In 2013, they took Michael Lorenzen, then a closer at Cal State Fullerton, in the sandwich round. Lorenzen had no starting on his resume -- he was a toolsy outfielder/reliever only -- but he went to the AFL a year ago as a springboard to spending all of the 2014 season as a starter in the Double-A Southern League. That worked out pretty well, as Lorenzen finished third in the league with a 3.13 ERA. Howard is more than happy to walk the same path.

"It's definitely comforting knowing the organization feels that highly about me," Howard said. "A guy like Lorenzen went out and proved himself in Double-A. It definitely gives me a lot of confidence knowing the organization has confidence in me to go out and do the same thing that he's on track to do."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Lefty Marshall progressing just as Reds need him

Aiming to be 100 percent at spring camp, reliever could be solid option for club

Lefty Marshall progressing just as Reds need him

CINCINNATI -- The Reds' bullpen is just one area on the club that needs to be improved over the offseason. With payroll space limited, Cincinnati is hoping that some of the choices to bring that improvement are already inside the organization.

Could lefty reliever Sean Marshall be healthy enough again to be one of those choices? Marshall has been limited to 31 appearances over the last two seasons because of shoulder injuries and will be coming off June 24 surgery that repaired a torn labrum. Recently, the 32-year-old veteran of nine seasons told MLB.com that he has been making progress.

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"My therapy has been going great. It really is. My strength is there," Marshall said on Sept. 23. "I still have a little range of motion work that I've been doing, but every day is better. I definitely feel like I have a new shoulder, so it's good and strong."

Next season will be the final year of the three-year, $16.5 million contract extension Marshall signed on Feb. 27, 2012, not long after his trade from the Cubs to the Reds for three players that included lefty pitcher Travis Wood. Marshall is due to earn $6.5 million in 2015.

The plan is for Marshall to work out all offseason near his home in Chicago and begin a throwing program in early-to-mid November. It will begin slowly with playing catch and escalate to mound work

"We had in mind at the end of June when I had the surgery to be ready to pitch at Spring Training," Marshall said. "Hopefully I will be 100 percent at Spring Training."

The Reds could have used a healthy Marshall this season as several relievers often struggled to bridge the gap between the starters and the final two innings. Cincinnati's bullpen had a 4.11 ERA that was ranked 14th out of 16 National League clubs. Before closer Aroldis Chapman, the only other lefty at manager Bryan Price's disposal for most of the season was Manny Parra, who regressed following a strong 2013.

Marshall was unable to pitch during Spring Training because of shoulder soreness and began the year on the disabled list. After his April 19 activation, he posted a 7.71 ERA in 15 appearances before going on the DL again for the rest of the season on June 14. During the surgery to repair his shoulder, he had stem cells infused to help speed healing. He also has undergone platelet-rich plasma injections -- a therapy that has been used on teammates like Homer Bailey and Joey Votto.

Unlike Tommy John surgery on the elbow, successful returns from shoulder surgeries are less predictable and have mixed track records. Marshall has been doing all he can to improve his odds. He maintained core and leg workouts all summer and recently advanced to an upper body lifting program and felt good.

"The strength is there and stability is there. That's exciting," Marshall said. "My next step will be doing overhead internal rotation, which will end up building arm strength to throw."

During his first season with the Reds in 2012, Marshall led the club with 73 appearances and posted a 2.51 ERA while stranding 25 of 34 inherited baserunners. His effectiveness increased when he moved from closing to an eighth-inning role before Chapman. Left shoulder tendinitis and a shoulder sprain marred most of Marshall's 2013 season.

"It's been definitely tough to be a spectator the majority of the last two years to not be able to be out there and competing," Marshall said. "I know we did the right thing as far as the repair and the PRP and other procedures. As a whole, I should be better than I was before. I'm optimistic for that. I know I missed the guys a lot, and I think they missed me a lot down there. I'm really looking forward to being back."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Reds facing decisions as Cueto's contract year approaches

Cincy poised to exercise bargain club option, making ace attractive trade chip

Reds facing decisions as Cueto's contract year approaches

CINCINNATI -- Especially when compared to a couple of his esteemed contempories, Reds ace Johnny Cueto will be a relatively major bargain while pitching next season.

Cueto has a $10 million club option for 2015 that's a lock to be exercised after he completed the four-year, $27 million contract that was signed to avoid arbitration on January 26, 2011. Like most bargains, the price won't remain low permanently, as the 28-year-old Cueto can become a first-time free agent about one year from now.

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The good news for Cincinnati is that Cueto seems like he's very interested in remaining with the Reds long term.

"Yes. I feel good here," said Cueto through interpreter Tomas Vera after he earned his 20th win of the season on Sept. 28. "I like it here. I like the fans. I like the stadium, even though the stadium is small, I like this stadium. I pitch good here. I want to stay here, yes."

The bad news for Cincinnati is that it's rarely as simple as that.

Not only is Cueto a year away from free agency, but so are three others in the Reds' rotation: Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon. The Reds' payroll is already stretched while carrying big long term contracts like those that belong to Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and most recently, starting pitcher Homer Bailey, who signed a six-year, $105 million deal in February as he headed into his final contract year.

And Cueto is easily the best trade chip that the Reds and general manager Walt Jocketty have if they decide they need to part with pitching to make needed offensive upgrades.

Cueto is coming off of his best season and one of the best in Reds history after he went 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA over a National League-leading 34 starts and 243 2/3 innings. The team's first 20-game winner since 1988, he was also tied for the league lead with 242 strikeouts.

In 194 starts over seven seasons, Cueto is 85-57 with a 3.27 ERA. His 2.73 ERA over the last five seasons is the second best in the Major Leagues behind the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (2.26) among pitchers with at least 130 starts.

Remember, Cueto could be a big bargain next season for other clubs, too, at $10 million. In January, Kershaw signed a seven-year, $215 million contract to avoid arbitration. His deal will pay him $30 million for next season alone. In March 2013, another 20-game winner, Adam Wainwright, signed an extension with the Cardinals that gave him $97.5 million over five years. Wainwright will earn $19.5 million per season through 2018.

The Reds don't have a storied history of developing homegrown pitching. Their last successful homegrown pitcher was Tom Browning, and before that, Mario Soto.

Manager Bryan Price was hopeful, but realistic, about the Reds' chances of retaining Cueto and the others from the rotation.

"We've got a lot of very good homegrown players that are either working their way into arbitration or towards free agency, and as much as I think we'd love to be able to keep every single guy and pay them what they deserve, it's impossible to do here," Price said. "And then it feels like you're trying to pick your favorite guy, and it's just -- as good as these guys are -- they're all at different levels. Some of them may be able to demand six- or six-plus-year, top-level salary, and others are more maybe in what you consider the affordable range. And it doesn't look good when you're not trying to sign your best players, and sometimes it's hard to keep them all -- maybe impossible to keep them all.

"That being said, every effort will be made. But sometimes the players have to cooperate, too. And that's hard to ask of them, to be in the prime of their career and try to make it workable for both sides."

When it comes to Cueto, the Reds are at the proverbial fork in the road.

Do they try to give him a big extension this winter? Should they trade him and his bargain option this winter to help retool the offense? Do they do nothing for now and trade him during the season if they fall out of contention? Or should they let him pitch for the Reds all of next season -- especially if they're contending -- and roll the dice that if they can't re-sign him as a free agent, they would at least get the Draft-pick compensation?

While wanting to stay, Cueto isn't going to concern himself with how it happens. He's focused on pitching for the Reds -- the team he came up with -- in 2015.

"That's not my decision. That's the GM's decision -- what he does or what they do," Cueto said. "All I have to do is continue working, come back to Spring Training and do my job and continue doing what I've been doing. And let them make decisions about it."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Nuxhall among 10 finalists for '15 Frick Award

Nuxhall among 10 finalists for '15 Frick Award

The list of 2015 Ford C. Frick Award finalists has been narrowed to 10, with the winner set to be announced on Dec. 10 at the Winter Meetings.

The finalists are Richie Ashburn, Billy Berroa, Rene Cardenas, Dizzy Dean, Dick Enberg, Ernie Johnson Sr., Ralph Kiner, Ned Martin, Joe Nuxhall and Jack Quinlan. The award is presented annually "for excellence in baseball broadcasting" by the Hall of Fame.

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The winner will be honored during the July 25 awards presentation as part of the Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y. To be considered, an active or retired broadcaster must have a minimum of 10 years of continuous Major League broadcast service.

The list of 10 includes three fan selections (Enberg, Kiner and Quinlan) and seven that were chosen by the Hall of Fame research committee. Cardenas and Enberg are the only two living candidates.

Final voting will be conducted by a 20-member electorate, comprised of the 16 living award recipients and four broadcast historian/columnists.

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Reds approve sale of minority interest

CINCINNATI -- The Reds approved the sale of a minority interest in the ballclub to Frank Cohen, it was announced on Tuesday. The transaction, which was finalized on Friday, sold the shares belonging to the Louise Dieterle Nippert Trust.

Louise and Louis Nippert began their 46-year ownership interest in the Reds when they bought in as part of an investors group in 1966. The Nipperts held a majority interest from 1973-81, and Ms. Nippert kept a minority interest from 1981 until her death in 2012.

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Cohen is a senior managing director for The Blackstone Group, an investment advisory firm based in New York. However, he is a fourth-generation Cincinnatian and a 1991 graduate of Seven Hills High School.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Over its 23-year history, the Arizona Fall League has developed a reputation as a finishing school for baseball's top prospects. This year, once again, many of the game's best young players will gather in the desert, hoping to prove themselves in the same league that helped catapult Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Trout to stardom.

When the AFL opens play Tuesday, the concentration of talent will again be readily apparent. Two of the three Opening Day games feature premium pitching matchups, and the third game is highlighted by two of the best shortstops in the Minor Leagues.

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The action begins at 3:35 p.m. ET when Peoria and right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the Royals' No. 2 prospect, visits Surprise and right-hander Taijuan Walker, whose last start was a complete game for the Mariners in the midst of their pennant race.

At the same time Tuesday afternoon, Glendale and shortstop Corey Seager, the Dodgers' No. 1 prospect, will host Mesa and shortstop Addison Russell, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect. The day ends with another pitchers' duel, as right-hander Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates' No. 1 prospect, will take the mound for Scottsdale at 9:35 p.m. ET at Salt River, facing right-hander Archie Bradley, the D-backs' No. 1 prospect.

Games with that level of talent are commonplace in the AFL, where 23 players ranked on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list will play this season.

For the second year in a row, Byron Buxton, baseball's top ranked prospect, is among the top prospects playing in the desert this fall. Last year, the Twins' No. 1 prospect hit .212/.288/.404 in 12 games as a 19-year-old for Glendale. This year, he will be playing for Salt River as he tries to make up for lost time after missing most of the regular season due to injuries.

Buxton played in just 31 games during the regular season. A wrist injury he suffered during Spring Training delayed his start to the season and continued to hamper him throughout the first half with Class A Advanced Fort Myers. Then, in his first game after being promoted to Double-A New Britain in August, he suffered a concussion in a harrowing outfield collision and was sidelined for the final three weeks of the season.

Now healthy again, Buxton will be one of the most-watched players in the AFL. But his is far from the only storyline to watch over the next six weeks.

Making up for lost time
Like Buxton, several other players are headed to Arizona to make up for time they lost to injury during the regular season. Others who are taking advantage of the extra developmental time include outfielder Jesse Winker, the Reds' No. 2 prospect, and shortstop Tim Anderson, the White Sox's No. 2 prospect.

Many of the starting pitchers in the AFL are there because injuries prevented them from reaching their innings caps during the regular season. Bradley, Glasnow, Zimmer and Walker all spent part of this season on the disabled list, as did right-handers C.J. Edwards, the Cubs' No. 5 prospect, and Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays' No. 5 prospect.

Recent Draft picks
Last year, just four months after he was selected second overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, the Cubs sent third baseman Kris Bryant to the AFL. He hit .364/.457/.727 with six home runs in 20 games. He was named MVP and helped Mesa to the league championship game. That performance helped serve as a springboard for his historic '14 season, when he hit 43 home runs and reached Triple-A.

It is unlikely any player will be able to repeat Bryant's spectacular performance this season. But three members of the '14 Draft class will play in the AFL, led by shortstop Trea Turner, the Padres' No. 5 prospect. He was selected 13th overall in June and hit .323/.406/.448 with five home runs and 23 stolen bases in 69 games between short-season Eugene and Class A Fort Wayne.

In addition to the small group of '14 draftees, several members of the '13 Draft class will play in the AFL. Right-hander Mark Appel, the first overall pick last year, headlines the group. The Astros' No. 2 prospect had a rocky start to his first full professional season, but pitched much better after his promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi in July. He will try to build on that progress while pitching with Salt River this fall, where he joins Bradley and Buxton to form one of the most star-studded rosters in the league.

Pace of play
Major League Baseball announced last week a set of experimental rules designed to speed up the pace of play would be used in the AFL this year.

• A hitter must keep one foot inside the batter's box throughout his plate appearance, unless one of a few exceptions, such as a foul ball, occurs.

• Intentional walks will be called for by the manager and the batter will automatically take first base.

• There will be a maximum break of two minutes, five seconds between innings, with hitters required to be in the batter's box by the one-minute, 45-second mark. If either team doesn't comply, a ball or strike will be assessed accordingly.

• There will be a maximum of two minutes, 30 seconds allowed for pitching changes, including those that occur during an inning break. A ball will be called if a team takes too long.

• Each team will be permitted three "timeout" conferences covering any meeting involving pitchers and catchers, managers, coaches and batters. Timeouts during pitching changes and those that result from an injury or other emergency will not be counted toward the limit. Additionally, at Salt River home games, a 20-second pitch clock will be used. Those games will also include instant replay, as MLB continues to study potential modifications to the review system.

The experimental pace of play initiatives continue the AFL's tradition of being a testing lab for MLB's potential rule changes. Last year, the instant replay system was debuted in the AFL.

Defensive moves
Position changes often happen in a less-competitive environment than the AFL, but the league gives players who are moving around the diamond another chance to get experience.

This year, Josh Bell, the Pirates' No. 3 prospect, will be the most prominent player learning a new position. He has exclusively played the outfield in the Minor Leagues, but the Pirates already have a star-studded trio of young outfielders in the big leagues. So, this fall, Bell will try out first base, where he began taking ground balls during the regular season.

Although Peter O'Brien, the D-backs' No. 7 prospect, won't be changing positions when he catches for Salt River this fall, his progress defensively will be closely watched by evaluators. The 24-year old was a catcher in college, but has played four positions since the Yankees drafted him in the second round in '12.

The D-backs acquired O'Brien at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in exchange for Martin Prado, but injuries limited him to four games with his new club. The D-backs are sending him to the AFL as a catcher, and how he performs behind the plate over the next six weeks could inform his ultimate defensive home.

No matter where O'Brien ends up defensively, his offensive prowess gives him a chance to reach the Major Leagues. He hit 34 home runs in 106 games this season, ranking fifth among Minor Leaguers.

MLB.com's Top Prospects in AFL
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
4. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
5. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
9. Archie Bradley, RHP, D-backs
13. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
16. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates
29. Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
38. Raul Mondesi, SS, Royals
40. Jesse Winker, OF, Reds
41. Mark Appel, RHP, Astros
47. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals
49. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners
53. C.J. Edwards, RHP, Cubs
60. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
71. Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres
82. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
84. Nick Williams, OF, Rangers
85. Daniel Robertson, SS, A's
86. Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals
87. Miguel Almonte, RHP, Royals
88. Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays
96. Trea Turner, SS, Padres
98. Matt Olson, 1B, A's

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Reds have crucial offseason decisions to make

Bullpen, offense need to be addressed as sluggers look to get healthy

Reds have crucial offseason decisions to make

CINCINNATI -- Now that a disappointing 2014 Reds season is in the books, one of the more interesting offseasons in years looms ahead. What brings intrigue is that the club could pivot in a couple of different directions.

Cincinnati could do a major retool and reload by trading some of its more coveted players (starting pitching) and longtime fixtures to fill needs in other areas (offense). Or, it could make small modifications and keep the roster largely intact for another push to go for it with its core players feeling 100 percent again.

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"We're going to have to take a hard look at our roster, obviously. That goes without saying any time you struggle," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Secondarily, we have to look at what our team would have looked like if we got healthy performances."

But lacking healthy personnel didn't account for all of the struggles.

"We've had some years from some players that have been disappointing from a performance standpoint," Price said.

Still, a complete teardown and rebuild would seem less likely considering the competitiveness of president/CEO Bob Castellini, and that the All-Star Game will be at Great American Ball Park in 2015. Plus, if the Reds were going to blow it all up and start over, they should have done that at the Trade Deadline.

One thing that is known -- the Reds are facing some tough decisions and little wiggle room with the payroll that could again top $100 million.

There are nine players under contract for next season owed roughly $71 million, and that does not include the $10 million club option for ace Johnny Cueto that is sure to be picked up. Four starting pitchers, including Cueto, are one year away from becoming free agents. If none of the pitchers are dealt and they all stay healthy, the Reds would again have a strong rotation to take into the 2015. Aroldis Chapman is coming off a superb season as the closer.

From the lineup, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce bring 30-home run power if they can show they are fully healthy again. Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier have shown during breakout seasons they are both capable of hitting 30 homers. Billy Hamilton has demonstrated promise from the leadoff spot, but he still has room for growth. On the other hand, more offense is needed from a team that flatlined at the plate in the second half.

The question the Reds' top officials will be asking themselves this winter: Do they have enough in place to challenge the Cardinals, Pirates, Brewers and perhaps the up-and-coming Cubs in the National League Central? Their answer to that question will come in the moves that are made -- or not made.

Here is a look at where the Reds' roster stands as the club heads off to the off-season:

Free agents: INF Jack Hannahan ($4 million club option for 2015 with a $2 million buyout); OF Ryan Ludwick ($9 million mutual option for 2015 with a $4.5 million buyout); Ramon Santiago

Arbitration-eligible: LHP Chapman (second year); SS Zack Cozart (first year); 3B Frazier (first year); OF Chris Heisey (third year); RHP Mat Latos (third year); RHP Mike Leake (third year); C Mesoraco (first year); RHP Logan Ondrusek (second year); RHP Alfredo Simon (third year)

Rotation: Starting pitching is the club's best asset, and it could also be where it has the most coveted trade chips. Four of this season's five starters -- Cueto, Latos, Leake and Simon -- are a year away from becoming free agents after 2015. Cueto has a relative bargain $10 million club option that will surely be exercised, but he could also bring a strong return. The other three pitchers are all third-year arbitration-eligible.

The Reds could sign Cueto or Latos to long-term deals, but probably not both after Homer Bailey signed for six years and $105 million in February. Bailey will be coming back from flexor mass tendon surgery in his right forearm. Lurking behind the main five is a curious name in Cuban defector Raisel Iglesias, who is on the 40-man roster and is being groomed as a starter. Prospects Robert Stephenson and Michael Lorenzen are probably another year away from being ready.

Bullpen: One of areas most in need of a makeover, the Reds had trouble bridging the gap from the starter to the back end of the bullpen and Chapman. No relievers struggled more than J.J. Hoover and Ondrusek -- both were frequently beat up with hits and homers, while also struggling with location. Lefty Sean Marshall, who is owed $6.5 million next season, has pitched sparingly the last two seasons because of shoulder issues. There was a bright spot in 30-year-old rookie Jumbo Diaz, and Pedro Villarreal impressed the club in September. Chapman, who recovered quickly from a line drive to the face in Spring Training, remains one of the league's most dominant closers.

Catcher: Mesoraco showed he was ready to be the everyday catcher, and he became a first-time All-Star with a strong offensive performance and improved defense. With more experience, he could become an elite catcher. Brayan Pena was a strong backup and worked well with Cueto on a near-regular basis. Prospect Tucker Barnhart got some big league exposure and is available for added depth when needed.

First base: The question isn't whether the position belongs to Votto, because that will be a stone-cold lock for the next decade. It's whether he'll be healthy and able to return to the form that made him one of the game's most successful hitters in 2010-11. The distal strain of his left quadriceps robbed Votto of leg strength, which he will need to get his power back and the ability to drive the baseball.

Second base: With three years and $39 million remaining on his contract and 10-and-5 rights that give him no-trade protection, Brandon Phillips isn't expected to be going anywhere after being the No. 1 trade rumor on the club last winter. Many of Phillips' offensive numbers have been in decline the past two seasons, and a torn left thumb ligament and a rush back from surgery did not help him in 2014.

Shortstop: Cozart played the best season of his career, defensively, and easily had his worst year offensively. Cozart could be a future Gold Glove Award winner, but his lack of hitting can only work in a lineup that is firing on all cylinders. When the offense is lacking like it really did this season, his struggles stood out more.

Third base: While earning his first All-Star nod, Frazier became a 20-20 guy in homers and steals, while stepping up in the void while the team's key hitters either struggled or were hurt. Frazier also played strong defense at third base and should be a fixture for the immediate future.

Outfield: There is no doubt that Bruce will be hungry for redemption following the worst year of his career at the plate. With a chance to fully rehabilitate the left knee that underwent surgery in May, he should be 100 percent. Hamilton should be able to build from the rookie experience he gained, and he needs to improve at getting on base any way he can. Ludwick isn't expected to be back, and Heisey did not thrive when again given the chance to take an everyday job. Skip Schumaker will be returning from left shoulder surgery. The bottom line is that left field is wide open and a place where Cincinnati can address its offensive shortcomings either via a trade (more likely) or free agency (less likely).

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Offense can't produce in first season under Price

Cueto's 20-win year leads strong staff, but Reds unable to make playoff run

Offense can't produce in first season under Price

CINCINNATI -- Although they changed managers after last season, the Reds felt they had a strong enough roster to not only contend for the National League Central, but be a factor in the postseason. After all, they had been to the playoffs in three of the previous four years.

How mistaken that proved to be in a 2014 season that was filled with disappointment and unfulfilled expectations.

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"In large part, if you go into that room ... there would be no one there that would say, 'You know what? We overachieved,' or that, 'We played exactly to our ability.' There is an overriding feeling that we have a better team than is represented by our win-loss record," said Reds manager Bryan Price, who replaced Dusty Baker. "We have left winnable games on the field and walked away with losses."

Injuries to key parts of the roster certainly tested the team's depth this season. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Aroldis Chapman, Mat Latos and Homer Bailey were only some of the players that spent extended time on the disabled list.

But that doesn't let the Reds off the hook for falling well short of their goal. Every team deals with injuries, and the special teams endure and overcome.

The offense struggled to score runs frequently and seemed to dry up altogether after the All-Star break. On five different occasions, opposing pitchers took no-hitters into the seventh inning. One night -- on May 29, Arizona's Josh Collmenter pitched a three-hit shutout but faced the minimum 27 batters in one of the season's lowest points for the Reds.

"Some of the injuries, the health, are a big part of the struggles here. We also have to do the little things better," Bruce said. "We have the ability to be a winning team and a championship-caliber team, but I think the little things are what separate the best teams from the good teams."

Even when they were playing, the big three run producers -- Votto, Phillips and Bruce -- did not produce anywhere close to their track records would indicate. Outside of Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier, no one else stepped up to fill the large void.

"What I'm going to choose to take away from this year the most is the emergence of Devin and Todd as the players they've become," Bruce said.

While the starting rotation, led by Johnny Cueto, was strong most of the season and able to withstand the Spring Training loss of Latos, the front end of the bullpen struggled to bridge the gap between starters and the back-end duo of Jonathan Broxton and Chapman.

Nevertheless, the Reds were very much in the NL Central race with the Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates during the first half. They departed for the All-Star break at 51-44 and were a mere 1 1/2 games out of first place.

"I just don't think you can find in the coaches' room, manager's office or clubhouse anybody here that would agree we didn't have enough talent to at least be competitive in the division in the second half," Price said. "And we haven't been competitive in our division at all since the All-Star break."

Put it all together, and it was a challenging first season as a manager for Price.

Record: 76-86, fourth place in NL Central

Defining moment: On July 18-20, the Reds came out of the All-Star break flat, and they lost the first seven games and first four series of the second half. That included two walk-off defeats and being held to two runs or less in five of them games. A 1 1/2-game deficit in the standings was six games by July 30, and they never got closer to four games back after Aug. 7.

What went right: Led by Cueto, the rotation was often as good as any in the National League. Bailey turned it around after a poor April. Mike Leake reached 200 innings for the first time and Alfredo Simon stepped in for Latos and became a deserved All-Star for a very strong first half. ... Rookie Billy Hamilton proved to be largely as advertised in the big leagues. ... Frazier stepped in as an offensive producer, became an All-Star and reached career highs in homers, RBIs and steals, and he was only the third third baseman in club history to hit at least 20 homers with 20 stolen bases. He also played outstanding defense. ... Mesoraco rewarded the Reds' trust in making him the regular catcher by breaking out offensively in an All-Star season and made improvements defensively and in working with the pitching staff. ... Shortstop Zack Cozart had a tremendous year defensively, and he is worthy of NL Gold Glove Award consideration.

What went wrong: The biggest loss amid of all the team's injuries, Votto missed most of the season with a distal strain of his left quadriceps. Timetables for his return were mysterious throughout the year. Even when he could play, it was clear he lacked power at the plate. ... It wasn't just that the Reds lacked offense, they were the worst hitting team in the Majors during the second half while scoring the least runs with the lowest total hits, on base and slugging percentages. Rushed back from left knee surgery in May when the team needed hitting, Bruce never caught fire at the plate and called 2014 "the most embarrassing year of my life." ... The bullpen -- which had strong depth last season -- often was a liability, especially on the front end. J.J. Hoover tied a club record for relievers with 10 losses and set a new one by losing all 10 in a row. Logan Ondrusek also was prone to walks and being knocked around.

Biggest surprise: It's certainly not a shock that closer Chapman put away hitters with triple-digit velocity and racked up strikeouts and saves. But what was stunning this season was that Chapman did it while coming back remarkably fast from what could have been a tragic incident -- being struck in the face by a line drive. He sustained fractures above his left eye and nose and had a metal plate inserted in his head. Chapman was back by May 10 looking no worse for the wear, and he not only showed he could still bring the heat, but also some devastating secondary pitches in his slider and changeup. The left-hander also established a new Major League record for relievers by recording at least one strikeout in 49 straight games.

Hitter of the year: Mesoraco. Despite two stints on the disabled list, he emerged as one of the league's best-hitting catchers and gave the club some needed punch. He hit the most homers for a Reds catcher since Johnny Bench in 1980. Mesoraco's three grand slams equal the club's single-season record.

Pitcher of the year: Cueto. The leader or among the NL leaders in every key category for pitchers, he would be top NL Cy Young Award contender if not for the special year by the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. Cueto's year has been special in a historical sense for the Reds. He is only the third pitcher in franchise history and the first since 1965 to collect at least 18 wins and 220 strikeouts in a season (he finished with 20 and 242). Cueto also earned a well-deserved nod for the NL All-Star team.

Rookie of the year: Hamilton. Although it was not a perfect all-around season, Hamilton handled himself well at the plate for a first full season in the big leagues. He led all NL rookie hitters in hits, runs, RBIs, multihit games, doubles, extra-base hits and, of course, stolen bases as he often caused havoc on the basepaths. A very pleasant development was also that Hamilton played Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, often making spectacular plays with his speed, glove and arm.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Assistant general manager Miller leaving Reds

KANSAS CITY -- Reds assistant general manager Bob Miller will be leaving the club in October when his contract expires.

Miller, who confirmed the move to MLB.com, has purchased a business in Clearwater, Fla. He said he made the decision to leave a couple of months ago.

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Former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky brought Miller aboard the organization as director of baseball administration, and he was promoted to assistant GM in June of that season. He added vice president to his title in December 2006.

Under current GM Walt Jocketty, Miller assisted in several areas -- including arbitration cases, contract negotiations and the intricate details of Major League rules and procedures.

A replacement for Miller has not been named by the Reds.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cueto first Reds hurler with 20 victories since '88

Cueto first Reds hurler with 20 victories since '88

CINCINNATI -- Until Johnny Cueto defeated the Pirates on Sunday, the last time the Reds had a 20-game winner, Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, the Berlin Wall was still fortified and "Don't Worry, Be Happy," by Bobby McFerrin was the No. 1 song on the charts.

That previous pitcher was left-hander Danny Jackson, who went 23-8 with a 2.73 ERA and 15 complete games over 35 starts in 1988. Cueto ended at 20-9 with 2.25 ERA in 34 starts after a 4-1 win over the Pirates in which he pitched eight innings and drove in the game-winning run with a single in the bottom of the eighth.

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"A lot of people, including my mom, said, 'I want 20 games.' A lot of people in Spring Training said they want 20 games," Cueto said through interpreter Tomas Vera. "I thank God for being able to commit and give them what they ask for. It's not just my personal goal, it was more than one person -- including my mom -- and I'm doing it for them."

Unfortunately, Cueto's 2014 season could potentially resemble Jackson's in two bittersweet ways.

The 1988 and 2014 Reds did not make the playoffs, and like Jackson, Cueto probably won't win the National League Cy Young Award because a Dodgers pitcher had an even better year.

Jackson was second to Orel Hershiser, who also had a 23-8 record but posted a 2.26 ERA and led the league with 267 innings and eight shutouts while finishing the year with a record 59 consecutive scoreless innings. Kershaw, a strong NL MVP candidate, finished this season 21-3 with a Major League best 1.77 ERA and six complete games in 27 starts.

"It's definitely a tough thing for Johnny; I know that would be a great honor for him," catcher Devin Mesoraco said. "You feel bad, but at the same time you have to give Clayton a lot of credit. The year that he had was unbelievable."

"It's been Kershaw's year, but I'd love for Johnny to be able to get the acknowledgment that goes with, not just being in the conversation, but actually winning the award," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "And it doesn't look like that's a probability."

Cueto refused to concede the award to Kershaw.

"You don't know what's going to happen," Cueto said. "Nothing has happened yet. I've got my own numbers. I have my innings, I have my strikeouts -- look where I'm pitching. I don't know that. You guys, the media, are the ones who know what's going to happen. I've got my numbers."

Cueto will also be dueling for consideration with another 20-game winner in Adam Wainwright. Here some of the numbers that Cueto accumulated this season:

• No. 1 in the NL in innings pitched with 243 2/3 innings.

• Tied for No. 1 in the NL with Stephen Strasburg. Both had 242 strikeouts after Cueto struck out seven on Sunday.

• No. 1 in opponents' batting average.

• No. 2 in NL ERA behind Kershaw.

• Cueto is the first pitcher to win 20 games for a team with a losing record since R.A. Dickey with the Mets in 2012.

• Cueto pitched at least eight innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs 15 times in 2014.

"I think overall that Johnny understands that he had a really great year," Reds third baseman Todd Frazier said. "There is no short of great there. He really exceeded my expectations, especially being hurt the year before. He worked hard. Knowing him and emotions he brings, he's going to do it day in and day out."

Among Reds pitchers, it was one of the greater seasons in the franchise's history.

• Cueto is the first right-handed Reds pitcher to reach 20 wins since Sammy Ellis in 1965.

• Cueto's 2.25 ERA is the lowest by a Reds pitcher since Gary Nolan posted 1.99 mark in 1972.

• It's the most strikeouts in a season by a Red since Mario Soto had 242 K's in 1983.

• One of three pitchers besides Noodles Hahn (1901) and Jim Maloney to notch at least 20 wins and 235 strikeouts.

• Most innings pitched for the club since Jose Rijo had 257 1/3 innings in 1993.

"I think it just speaks to the year that he's had," Mesoraco said. "We haven't had as much success as what we would like as a team, but Johnny, 20 wins, it hasn't happened for a long time here, so it's a very great accomplishment for him."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Chapman's season proves historically dominant

After terrible injury, closer comes back to break multiple strikeout records

Chapman's season proves historically dominant

CINCINNATI -- Reds closer Aroldis Chapman turned in one of the most dominant seasons by a relief pitcher in Major League history in 2014.

Chapman set new Major League records in strikeouts per nine innings (17.67), strikeouts-to-hits ratio (5.05-to-1), and highest percentage of batters struck out (52.4 percent). He also shattered the record for most consecutive relief appearances with a strikeout (39 by Bruce Sutter), establishing the new mark of 49 straight from Aug. 21, 2013-Aug. 13, 2014.

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Chapman also became the first pitcher since the PitchF/x tracking system was installed in 2006 to finish the season with an average fastball velocity of more than 100 mph (100.3).

The fastest pitch Chapman recorded this season was a 104.53 mph fastball to the D-backs' Paul Goldschmidt on July 28.

"I really don't look forward to breaking or doing any kind of records," Chapman said through translator Tomas Vera. "That's not on my mind. When I go in there, I go in there to do my job and to close the game and get it done. Records are something you can't control. Records are what destiny gives to you."

Chapman's dominance has been even more impressive considering the horrific injury he sustained during Spring Training, when he was hit in the face by a line-drive comebacker by the Royals' Salvador Perez. The force of the impact caused fractures of his nose and above his eye, as well as a mild concussion.

But the 26-year-old came back stronger than ever, much to the amazement and relief of his teammates. Chapman missed 35 games, making his season debut on May 11 against the Rockies and striking out the side.

"I was worried about my career. It means a lot [to come back]," Chapman said. "Today after I threw the last pitch, I kind of got tears a little bit. I felt really emotional for what happened the whole season. It was not just important for me to do what I did, it was just important for my family, as well, that I came back and do what I did."

One of Chapman's closest friends on the Reds, catcher Brayan Pena, beams with pride when discussing Chapman's return.

"To see him laying down on the hospital bed and wondering, 'Am I going to pitch again? Am I going to continue to do what I do best?' And being able to witness his recovery and the way that he bounced back when a lot of people had doubt about how he was going to be … he never had any doubt," Pena said.

"He read a couple things, people wondering about the mental aspect of the game and whether it would affect him and stuff like that -- what if someone hit a comebacker or something like that. But he said, 'No, I'm very focused on my recovery first, and then I'll go out there and do what I do.' It's just part of the game, and he understood that."

Third baseman Todd Frazier has had a unique vantage point during home games when Chapman was on the mound, adjacent to the visiting team's dugout.

"You look at the other team in the dugout, and it's kind of quiet," Frazier said. "It's a little awkward. To have him out there, it's pretty nice."

When asked if he thought there was another pitcher behind whom it would be more comfortable to play defense, Frazier couldn't come up with anyone in the game today.

"Maybe Nolan Ryan, Jim Maloney, just to think of a couple," he said.

No vantage point could be as interesting as that afforded to a catcher when Chapman is firing his incomparable fastball toward home plate.

"The fans, they embrace the 100-mph [fastballs] -- when I say the fans, I mean all baseball fans," Pena said. "Because when he goes on the road, people say 'Oooooh' and are surprised and stuff like that. But being behind home plate and being able to see those pitches and then being able to shake hands after winning a game with a guy like that, it's amazing."

Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cueto does it all vs. Bucs to notch milestone 20th win

Go-ahead hit makes righty first Reds player to reach mark since '88

Cueto does it all vs. Bucs to notch milestone 20th win

CINCINNATI -- How badly did the Reds want to give ace Johnny Cueto every chance to get his 20th win of the season on Sunday afternoon? With the game tied and a runner on third base and one out in the eighth inning, manager Bryan Price pulled back a pinch-hitter to let Cueto bat for himself.

That was one gutsy call, but Cueto rewarded his manager and himself by hitting a full-count pitch for a go-ahead single up the middle in the Reds' eventual 4-1 victory over the Pirates at Great American Ball Park. Cueto became the club's first 20-game winner since Danny Jackson won 23 games in 1988.

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"I still don't understand this. I don't understand that at-bat," Cueto said through translator Tomas Vera. "I told my manager I want to hit, and he gave me the confidence to do it. So I went out there and got the hit, and I still don't understand it."

Over his eight innings pitched, Cueto allowed one earned run and six hits with no walks and seven strikeouts. He finished his season 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA. The right-hander also has the NL innings title at 243 2/3 and finished tied for the NL lead with Stephen Strasburg with 242 strikeouts.

By winning two out of three in the series, Cincinnati finished its season with a 76-86 record for fourth place in the National League Central. The Pirates' loss meant the Cardinals clinched the division and Pittsburgh will host the Giants in the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday.

There may not have been the drama for the Reds of having a postseason berth on the line, but there was no lacking for excitement during the eighth inning.

It was a 1-1 game in the bottom of the frame when Jason Bourgeois led off with a triple through the gap in left-center field against reliever Tony Watson. With the infield playing in, Zack Cozart hit a bullet that was caught by third baseman Josh Harrison.

That set up the chance for Cueto to help his own cause. Price knew the decision to let him hit would invite second guessing.

"I put Johnny Cueto above everything else -- including our ballclub, including the playoff race, etc. -- because I felt like he earned it," Price said. "I wasn't so unsure he wouldn't put the ball in play right there and actually drive in that run by putting the ball in play with the infield in."

It was the 15th time this season that Cueto has pitched at least eight innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs.

"I feel really happy, because I've won 19 games before [in 2012], I want to break my own personal record," Cueto said. "You always want to win 20, and I feel really, really happy."

Cueto was lifted for a pinch-runner after his hit and then watched from the dugout as Kristopher Negron provided insurance with a first-pitch two-run home run from reliever Justin Wilson.

"We've had the ups and downs, and to finish up strong like that the past couple games really gives us momentum," Negron said. "And any momentum -- whether it's the last game of the year or anything like that -- is good."

Aroldis Chapman pitched around a leadoff single and struck out the side in the ninth to record his 36th save.

The Reds jumped on Gerrit Cole with back-to-back singles from Negron and Brandon Phillips in the first. Todd Frazier followed with a chopper to third base, where Harrison made a pretty leaping grab and throw to first for an RBI groundout and a 1-0 lead. Cole struck out a career-high-tying 12 over seven innings -- including eight looking at third strikes.

Cueto gave up a pair of two-out singles in the first inning and a two-out double in the second. But he did not give up a run until Neil Walker hit a 0-1 pitch for a drive over the right-field bullpen to lead off the fourth inning. He went on to retire 14 of the next 15 batters.

With one out in the eighth, Cueto gave up a Travis Snider double and hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch. Walker ended the inning with a groundout to first base, where Cueto received the throw at the bag. He pumped his fist twice as he headed off the field as 34,424 fans at Great American Ball Park cheered loudly.

"I feel really happy, because I was down in the count for him, then I threw a changeup," Cueto said. "And then when I saw that ground ball, I said, 'I've got it, he's mine.'"

Not long after that, 20 wins belonged to Cueto as well.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cueto helps own cause by plating go-ahead run

Cueto helps own cause by plating go-ahead run

CINCINNATI -- With the Reds and Pirates tied in the eighth inning at Great American Ball Park on Sunday, Cincinnati manager Bryan Price decided to let starter Johnny Cueto -- in search of his career-high 20th win of the season -- bat with a runner at third and one out.

In a seven-pitch at-bat in which he barely got a piece of a 2-2 sinker from Bucs reliever Tony Watson to stay alive, Cueto grounded a 96-mph sinking fastball up the middle with the infield drawn in to put the Reds ahead, 2-1.

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"I still don't understand this. I don't understand that at-bat," Cueto said through translator Tomas Vera. "I told my manager I want to hit, and he gave me the confidence to do it. So I went out there and got the hit, and I still don't understand it.

"I have 104 pitches and there's a man on third. I mean, I don't understand why he trots me out. At the same time, I'm really happy and I'm happy he's confident in me and I went on to get my lead. That's what I don't understand -- he could have brought in a pinch-hitter, but he believed in me."

Going into that at-bat, Cueto was batting .119 (8-for-67) with two RBIs on the season.

"I feel in this situation that when push comes to shove, we have a guy that has pitched 240-plus innings for us. If there is anybody that earned that opportunity, it was Johnny," Price said. "To me, it was more important than everything else today. It really was. I put Johnny Cueto above everything else -- including our ballclub, including the playoff race, etc., because I felt like he earned it.

"I wasn't so unsure he wouldn't put the ball in play right there and actually drive in that run by putting the ball in play with the infield in. I don't know if I could have done that with any other pitcher we have."

Kristopher Negron followed with a two-run homer off Justin Wilson to make it 4-1 Cincinnati.

Closer Aroldis Chapman came on in the ninth to close it out, picking up his 36th save of the season and making Cueto the first Reds pitcher since Danny Jackson in 1988 to win 20 games in a season. Cueto also became the first Cincinnati right-hander to win 20 games since 1965.

By defeating the Pirates, Cueto and the Reds knocked Pittsburgh out of contention for a National League Central title. The Pirates will host the Giants in the NL Wild Card Game at PNC Park on Wednesday.

Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Reds walk off behind Santiago's grand slam

Axelrod fires scoreless 10th to give 'pen first win since All-Star break

Reds walk off behind Santiago's grand slam

CINCINNATI -- It took 78 days, but the Reds' bullpen got its first win of the season's second half on Saturday afternoon in unlikely fashion.

Entering the game 0-17 since the All-Star break, Cincinnati's relief corps was far from perfect, but it got the job done in a 10-6 walk-off win over the Pirates on a 10th-inning grand slam by Ramon Santiago. A Reds reliever last won a game, ironically, also against the Pirates back on July 11.

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Santiago, who entered the game with one home run on the season, belted his first career grand slam off reliever Bobby LaFromboise with two outs in the 10th, giving Dylan Axelrod the win and putting a dent in Pittsburgh's hopes for a division title. Axelrod hadn't pitched since an oblique strain forced him out of the starting rotation on Sept. 8.

"I hit it pretty good," Santiago said of his second career walk-off homer and Cincinnati's first walk-off grand slam since Joey Votto hit one against the Nationals on Aug. 13, 2012. "It was a fastball, middle in. He threw the first pitch in. The first couple of at-bats they busted me inside, so I was looking middle-in and looking to put a good swing on it. I got the pitch I wanted and hit it out."

Axelrod's appearance was very meaningful for the right-hander.

"It was just a big boost going into the offseason," Axelrod said. "It was a great way to have some time off and, you know, you finish on an injury and it's kind of disheartening and I didn't want that to happen. I did everything they asked me to in the training room and more. I just wanted to be out there really bad. I'm happy I got the chance."

Axelrod had been ready for that opportunity for a few days.

"I was out there [in the bullpen] on Thursday," he said. "I was looking at today as a day I could get in there; we've got [Johnny] Cueto tomorrow -- that's about eight or nine innings right there. I was prepared today and I was ready when they called down."

"He could not have come back at a better time, [because] we were down to two options in our bullpen," manager Bryan Price said. "And we really needed that length; that's what gave us the opportunity to go out there and think that if we had to win it in 13 or 14 innings we could do it, because we had him."

Axelrod wasn't aware that he was the first Reds reliever -- albeit a starter who came in for a rare relief appearance -- to earn a win in nearly three months.

"I'll take it," Axelrod said.

As will the Reds, who are trying to end the 2014 campaign on a positive note.

For much of Saturday's affair, it looked as though Cincinnati would have to wait until Sunday's season finale for that positive note to materialize.

With the game tied at 4 and two out in the seventh, Reds reliever Sam LeCure hit Travis Snider. Gregory Polanco pinch-ran for Snider, promptly stealing second base. The next batter, Andrew McCutchen, singled to left to put Pittsburgh ahead, 5-4.

Neil Walker followed with a triple to bring in McCutchen and extend the Pirates' advantage to two runs.

The Reds stormed back to tie the game on a two-run homer by Todd Frazier in the seventh, his team-leading 29th of the season.

Cincinnati starter Alfredo Simon allowed one hit through four innings before a three-run Pirates fifth ended his afternoon.

Leading, 3-1, in the fifth, Simon surrendered a Jordy Mercer homer to lead off the frame. One out later, Pirates starter Francisco Liriano singled to right. He moved to third when the following batter, Josh Harrison, doubled off the wall in right field.

Following a Snider lineout to right and a walk by McCutchen, Simon gave up a two-run single to Walker that put Pittsburgh in front, 4-3.

Overall, Simon allowed four runs on five hits, walking two and striking out four in five innings.

The victory for the Reds was their first in the last 46 games in which they allowed six or more runs, a club record dating back to Aug. 23, 2013.

Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Price backs up promise of playing his regulars

Price backs up promise of playing his regulars

CINCINNATI -- With a National League Central race still hanging in the balance into the season's final weekend, Reds manager Bryan Price assured the first-place Cardinals on Friday that his already-eliminated club would not simply lie down in a series vs. the second-place Pirates because some of his regulars were injured.

Price backed that up on Saturday as he employed two players that had been out of action the last couple of days -- catcher Devin Mesoraco and closer Aroldis Chapman.

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Mesoraco, who missed the previous two games with a strain in his left rib cage, started vs. Pittsburgh on Friday. He went 1-for-4 with a two-run single in the first inning and a walk during a 10-6 Reds victory that put a wrench in Pittsburgh's chances to overtake St. Louis.

"I feel pretty good. If it was in the middle of the season, there wouldn't be any doubt that I would have played [Friday]," Mesoraco said. "There's no reason for me --- just because we're out of it at this point -- to not play. I'm getting paid. I need to go out there and perform just as if we're still right in the race. That's important."

Price had Mesoraco available to pinch-hit on Friday.

"He could have given us an at-bat [Friday]," Price said. "It was really receiving that was more of the challenge. I wanted to give him the one more day to make sure, because I want him today and I want him [Sunday] to catch. I want him to catch Johnny [Cueto]."

In Sunday's finale, Cueto will be trying for a career-high 20th victory to close out the 2014 season.

Chapman was unavailable on Friday after he labored somewhat through Thursday's ninth-inning save vs. the Brewers with what was diagnosed as left shoulder stiffness.

During a 6-6 game on Saturday, Chapman breezed through a perfect seven-pitch ninth inning with two strikeouts on the final six pitches. In an impressive display for the third out, all three of his pitches against reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen were 101 mph.

"I'm hoping he feels exactly the same way [Sunday]," Price said. "I'd love to have him available again for the last game with Cueto."

On Friday, Price had reached out to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny through the media relations departments to explain why many of his regulars weren't playing vs. the Pirates -- including Chapman, Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton, who is out dealing with symptoms from a concussion.

St. Louis is trying to hold off Pittsburgh for the division title and Price didn't want any doubts about the Reds' intentions.

"I felt it was fair that they understood that. We're not going, 'Hey we're taking a look at our younger guys.' There are guys that cannot play or will not play or are limited in their ability," Price said. "That was just three players. There are others on there that can't play, but I wasn't going to announce to Major League Baseball who is an active player on our roster and who isn't.

"I did want them to know that we're not trying to just play out the season and take a look at our younger players. We're trying to put the best team on the field with what we have to choose from."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Following review, out call at home stands

Following review, out call at home stands

CINCINNATI -- A crew chief review of a play at the plate on Saturday went against the Reds in the first inning vs. the Pirates.

With one out and a 3-0 Reds lead, Ryan Ludwick grounded to shortstop Jordy Mercer. Running from third base, Devin Mesoraco tried to score and tried to make a head-first reach for the plate around catcher Chris Stewart.

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Mesoraco rolled around Stewart as he was tagged but collided into the legs of home-plate umpire and crew chief Jim Joyce, who called him out. Manager Bryan Price disputed the call and a crew chief review of whether Stewart violated plate blocking rule 7.13 commenced.

After the review, it was decided that Joyce's call stands.

Reds trainer Paul Lessard also looked over Joyce for several moments before the veteran umpire was able to continue.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Leake strong on mound, at plate, but Reds fall

Righty allows three hits, doubles, scores; Bruce miscue costly in eighth

Leake strong on mound, at plate, but Reds fall

CINCINNATI -- Heading into what could be a pivotal offseason, Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake was able to exit the 2014 campaign with a strong final performance.

Leake gave up one earned run and three hits over seven innings, but only had a no-decision to show for it as the Reds were handed a 3-1 loss by the Pirates on Friday night. This came despite Pittsburgh being out-hit by an 11-6 margin.

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"He's legit. I mean, this isn't some guy sneaking up on the league, I can tell you that," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He's had the occasional ups and downs like any starting pitcher's going to have through the course of his career, but about as ready to compete as anybody we have. I always feel like we're going to get a great game from Mike, and he was solid again today."

It was a game turned on a fielding miscue by right fielder Jay Bruce in the eighth inning. In a 1-1 game against reliever Pedro Villarreal, Josh Harrison hit a two-out single to center field. Next batter Travis Snider hit a sharply sliced liner to right field that Bruce overran and missed while sliding on the grass. Harrison easily scored and Snider was credited with a double. Andrew McCutchen followed with an RBI double to the wall in left-center field.

"It seems to be an ongoing theme this year -- anything that can go wrong will," Bruce said. "[Snider] hit it hard, and it just knuckled, and it's not the first ball that's knuckled on someone before, but I just missed it. As I was trying to redirect, I just slipped."

Leake was out of the game by then after he had thrown 106 pitches and was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh. It was his best start of the final month after he had not lasted more than six innings in his previous four starts while carrying a 7.71 ERA from those outings.

"This month kind of roughed me up a little bit, but I'm glad I was able to come back on the last one and showed I'm still strong," said Leake, who walked two and struck out eight. "It would have been a good year either way, no matter the outcome of this outing, but it helped make it look like a little better of a year."

Leading off the top of the fifth inning against Leake, Gaby Sanchez broke a scoreless tie by hitting the first pitch from the righty to center field for a home run.

Cincinnati had only two 1-2-3 innings, but nine of its 11 hits were singles, with the other two being two-out doubles. In the bottom of the fifth, Leake flashed his hitting skills again and smacked a one-out double to left field. He then hustled home on Kristopher Negron's RBI single to center field, sliding in safely just ahead of the throw home and tag from catcher Russell Martin.

"We had 11, but I don't know if they were a productive 11," Leake said. "It was a nice hit by Negron to get me in."

Leake ended up with an 11-13 record and a 3.70 ERA while setting career highs with 33 starts, 214 1/3 innings and 162 strikeouts.

The Reds will have to take a close look at their strong rotation this winter, with Leake among four starters that can become free agents after next season. The club, which needs to add offense, might not be able to sign all four pitchers -- including ace Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos -- to long-term deals. Leake, who avoided arbitration with a one-year, $5.9 million contract, is eligible for it again a third and final time.

"They've got some question marks," Leake said. "They have to decide what they want to do, who they want to go forward with, who they don't. They've got a tough task this offseason. It's a very important offseason for them. I'm sure they've got a plan. It's just a matter of putting it in motion and going after what they feel we need."

Leake would like to be part of moving forward with the Reds.

"I hope they feel that way about me," he said. "I'd like to play my whole career in one spot. These days, it's tough to do. They have to have the mutual interest."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Reds give GM Jocketty two-year extension

Reds give GM Jocketty two-year extension

CINCINNATI -- With his contract set to expire at the end of this season, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty has agreed to a two-year extension to remain with the club through 2016.

"Yeah, it's done," Jocketty said on Friday. "I've got a great relationship with [Reds CEO] Bob [Castellini]. In my position, there are two things that are important. You have to have a great relationship with your owner and you have to have a great relationship with your manager. I have that here with both those guys.

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"I'm fully committed to trying to get this team back into the postseason because I think we're good enough to do that with a little bit of help here. I think our ownership certainly deserves it and our fans deserve it."

Jocketty joined the Reds' front office as president of baseball operations in January 2008, and he replaced Wayne Krivsky as GM in April of that season. Despite not advancing this season, Cincinnati made the playoffs three of the previous four years, winning the National League Central in 2010 and '12, while earning a spot through the NL Wild Card last season.

"This franchise has had great success under Walt's guidance, and we're delighted he has signed a 2-year extension," Castellini said.

First-year Reds manager Bryan Price, who has two years remaining on his contract, received a full endorsement as well after what's been a disappointing season for Cincinnati. Jocketty voiced his satisfaction with Price's work.

"Absolutely," Jocketty said. "I feel bad for him -- the things he had to overcome this year, the injuries and bringing in a new staff and new ideas. I thought he did an excellent job. I know the players feel that way."

When asked about the future of the coaching staff, Jocketty declined comment.

The Reds were within 1 1/2 games of the NL Central lead at the All-Star break before a collapse that had them out of realistic contention by mid-August.

While several players served time on the disabled list -- including Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Mat Latos and Homer Bailey -- the Reds' lack of offense proved integral in the team's struggles. Cincinnati is ranked last in the Majors in batting, hits, slugging and on-base percentage in the second half.

Jocketty should have a lot on his plate to get the club ready for 2015.

"We're already working on it," he said. "I expect to be busy and active in the offseason in a number of areas. I don't know how much we'll change this club. There is still a nucleus of a very good club. I know we've talked about injuries all year, but I still firmly believe that it finally took its toll.

"I still believe this is a very solid group. Saying that, we have to do some things differently. Our pitching was still solid. The bullpen has to improve. We have to improve it somehow, whether it's internally or externally. That was a strength we had last year. We already have one guy to replace in [Jonathan] Broxton, who we traded. There will be some changes in the bullpen. Offensively, we recognize the fact we had fewer guys on base this year. With fewer guys on base, fewer guys are going to score. We have to look at that. Part of that was a function of Joey not playing."

Another important mission is to determine the futures of four members of the Reds' rotation that are a year away from becoming free agents. Johnny Cueto has a $10 million club option for 2015, while Latos, Bailey, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon are third-year arbitration-eligible.

Nine players are already under contract for $71 million next season, leaving the small-market Reds constrained from making big moves.

"I really hope to find a way to manage to keep everybody that we can," Jocketty said. "We may not be able to. We've been creative in the past with payroll and we've been able to do things. We'll continue to look at ways that we can get better. I want to try and maintain as many players as we can from this year -- the critical guys -- and try to add to it if we can. I don't know how what we're going to do yet, but it's something we'll be working for the next month or so."

Jocketty said he does not feel compelled to trade one of the four starters before they become free agents.

"Especially if we're trying to win," he said. "Somebody might knock you out for somebody, so you never say never. But it would be pretty tough to do it. Pitching has been the strength of this club. I've always tried to build my clubs around strong pitching and defense. I thought we'd have enough offense to score some runs, but we didn't do it this year."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Symptoms from collision remain for Hamilton

Symptoms from collision remain for Hamilton

CINCINNATI -- The chances of Reds rookie outfielder Billy Hamilton returning during the final series of 2014 seemed diminished on Friday. Hamilton is still feeling the effects of a mild concussion suffered on Wednesday, as well as neck and shoulder soreness.

Hamilton, who was injured during a wall collision while taking a home run away from the Brewers' Ryan Braun, has not undergone the concussion testing protocol required by Major League Baseball before he can be cleared to return.

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Reds head trainer Paul Lessard said Hamilton still felt symptoms when he attempted to use an exercise bike in the training room.

"Although he was asymptomatic when he came in, unfortunately after the bike ride, he became more symptomatic," Lessard said. "I can't progress him until those symptoms are gone. With the way that went, there is no sense doing a computerized test, because I know he won't do well with it.

"It's basically a day-to-day thing. When he is asymptomatic with some light exercise, then we might do the other testing."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Bailey hopes to begin throwing in December

Bailey hopes to begin throwing in December

CINCINNATI -- The complicated metal brace over Homer Bailey's arm is locked to keep his elbow bent at a 90-degree angle. The pitcher is still in the early stages of recovery and rehab from Sept. 5 surgery that repaired a tear in the flexor mass tendon near Bailey's right forearm.

"I always try to go about everything the right way," Bailey said on Thursday. "I know I'm going to rehab extremely well and do whatever they tell me. Whenever I can do more, I will do more."

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Bailey pitched his last game of the 2014 season on Aug. 7 vs. the Indians, and he was soon diagnosed with a small tear of the tendon. A full recovery is expected, but it remained unclear whether the right-hander -- who signed a six-year, $105 million contract in February -- will be ready to begin the 2015 season right on time.

"I'll start throwing in late December, early January -- it's kind of where we're at right now," Bailey said. "Of course, we're a few months away. It could be sooner. It could be later. That's kind of the tentative plan. As far as games, I'm hopeful we would say I won't have to miss a start. Realistic, I might have to miss one or two. If I have to miss one start, maybe two starts, that's not that big of a deal."

Bailey said he normally resumes throwing just before Christmas during a typical offseason. He plans to return home to Texas next week, and he will work with physical therapists there.

"I'll be coming back [to Cincinnati] probably once a month -- November and December for Redsfest," Bailey said. "[The Reds] will be getting updates."

Worth noting

• In a letter to donors, Reds first baseman Joey Votto revealed that he has decided to close the Joey Votto Foundation. The foundation, which was established in December 2013, had a mission to help military members and their families deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. Funds raised for the foundation will continue to benefit veterans at the University of Cincinnati Health Stress Center.

"I remain committed to giving back to our Cincinnati community. However, I look forward to keeping my future volunteer and philanthropic efforts private," Votto wrote in the letter. "I appreciate your understanding on this matter."

• Following Thursday's game vs. the Brewers, Reds staff and front-office executives -- led by chief operating officer Phil Castellini -- were scheduled to thank fans as they exited Great American Ball Park.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Reds held to two hits by Lohse in loss to Crew

Hannahan records pair of singles; Corcino, bullpen struggle

Reds held to two hits by Lohse in loss to Crew

CINCINNATI -- The Reds' offense has been the worst in the Majors in the second half, as it ranks last in batting average (.219), hits (451) and on-base percentage (.275). The depths it has reached were on full display during Wednesday night's 5-0 loss to the Brewers.

One player stood in the way of Brewers starting pitcher Kyle Lohse getting a no-hitter -- sub-.200-hitting backup first baseman Jack Hannahan. He had both Reds hits and was the only one to reach base as Lohse did not give up a walk and struck out six.

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"It's weird," said Lohse, who also finished last season with a two-hit shutout -- at Atlanta. "Somehow I have to trick everybody into thinking every start is my last one of the year."

Hannahan led off the bottom of the third inning with a lined single to center field. With two outs in the fifth, he blooped a single into short center field. It was the 17th time this season the Reds have been shut out and the fifth in September.

"He hit two pretty good pitches, too," Lohse said of Hannahan. "First one, trying to get the backdoor curveball down in there to the dirt and he just did a good job of staying on it. The other one, I mean, I broke his bat. You can't do much more about that. I'll take what I got."

Meanwhile, the Reds' pitching staff allowed more than twice as many walks (a season-high 10) than it totaled strikeouts (four).

Reds rookie starter Daniel Corcino lasted only 4 1/3 innings and gave up two earned runs on four hits, and he was fortunate he wasn't burned more for the four walks he issued.

Corcino kept Milwaukee scoreless for the first three innings, while aided by some fine defense behind him. Shortstop Zack Cozart made a nice diving stop on a Lyle Overbay ground ball and second baseman Brandon Phillips made a fine barehanded catch of Cozart's flip to force out Rickie Weeks in the second inning -- a call the Reds got overturned on a managerial challenge after Weeks was originally ruled safe.

Center fielder Billy Hamilton robbed Ryan Braun of a home run with a leaping catch at the wall to end the top of the third inning. Two innings later, Hamilton was out of the game and diagnosed with a mild concussion from his head hitting the wall.

"The padding is hard, and I felt it right away," said Hamilton, who lined out to second base to end the third inning. "I thought I could go out there, and the lights got to me and I couldn't concentrate as well. I'll see how I feel tomorrow, and we'll go from there."

In the fourth, Aramis Ramirez hit a one-out double and scored on Weeks' two-out single to left field. By the fifth, Corcino lost his command and no amount of defense could help him fix it.

With one out, Corcino walked eighth hitter Jean Segura and threw two wild pitches while walking Lohse. Carlos Gomez's double to left field scored Segura before Braun walked on four pitches.

"It was a little struggle in the fifth inning," Corcino said. "I was losing a little bit with my mechanics to the plate. It happens sometimes. You've been doing well, and one inning, you miss a lot of pitches and get behind in the count and that's when you get hit."

J.J. Hoover, who has struggled most of the season, entered and prevented more runs from crossing. Hoover got a lineout to right field from Jonathan Lucroy and struck out Ramirez before also working a scoreless sixth.

Milwaukee opened the gap with a three-run eighth that was sparked by two walks from Ryan Dennick that began the inning.

Lohse could continue cruising to the end and finished with 106 pitches. In the seventh, Weeks robbed Todd Frazier of a single up the middle in the seventh. Gomez made a nice catch on a Cozart drive toward the center-field wall in the eighth.

"Kyle Lohse is a very good Major League pitcher, and he was on," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We got two base hits from Jack Hannahan, and that was it. He didn't walk anybody, allowed the defense to work for him. We hit a couple balls hard into the outfield that they defended well, and we just couldn't get anything started."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Solving bullpen puzzle Reds' offseason priority

After disappointing results in 2014, club may seek more cost-effective options

Solving bullpen puzzle Reds' offseason priority

ST. LOUIS -- When Reds players disperse for the offseason after Sunday's season finale, the front office, coaches and manager Bryan Price will quickly begin to evaluate the things that went wrong and try to figure out how to get it right again.

The bullpen most certainly will be one area near the top of the list. Trying to bridge the gap from the starting pitchers in the middle innings to closer Aroldis Chapman in the ninth proved to be one of Cincinnati's biggest weaknesses.

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"We've had a long, consistent look at our pitching," Price said. "I think it was a down year for handful of guys in our bullpen, as far as stuff and command. There is no doubt I leaned on the starters a lot more than we have in years past, because I believe that's how you win -- with starting pitching and good late, back-end bullpen stuff.

"We have to find a way to make it a strength again."

Here's a look at just some of the ugly numbers:

• The Reds bullpen's 4.13 ERA ranks 14th out of 15 National League teams.

• In the second half, Cincinnati relievers have gone 0-16 with a 4.56 ERA

J.J. Hoover is 1-10 with a 5.19 ERA in 51 appearances. His string of 10 consecutive losing decisions is the longest in club history for a reliever. Hoover's loss total is tied for a club record for a reliever. He has allowed 13 home runs. In 2013, Hoover rebounded from a bad opening to the season to post a 2.82 ERA, eventually leading the staff with 69 appearances.

• After strong 2011 and '12 seasons, Logan Ondrusek has a 5.49 ERA in what has been his second subpar campaign in as many years.

• Lefty Manny Parra has a 4.66 ERA after emerging last season as one of the club's most dependable relievers.

"Relief pitching, I think, is the most temperamental of any of the positions in baseball," Price said.

The bullpen started the season with adversity. Chapman was struck in the head by a line drive during Spring Training and needed surgery to repair fractures above his left eye. He did not return until May 11. Setup men Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall started the year on the disabled list. A Spring Training injury to starter Mat Latos forced Price to move dependable long and middle reliever Alfredo Simon into the rotation.

Chapman came back and still had one of his best seasons, as did Broxton before he was traded to the Brewers on Aug. 31. Getting to those relievers without the opponent adding on runs was the problem.

How can the Reds fix their bullpen? It won't necessarily require spending lots of money. This was already an expensive group to begin with.

The combined salaries of the seven Cincinnati relievers heading into the 2014 season was $22.57 million. By comparison, the Mariners own the Major Leagues' best bullpen ERA and spent only $10.65 million on their top seven relievers. Only closer Fernando Rodney -- at $7 million -- had a seven-figure salary.

As a small-market team with a payroll greater than $100 million and some big obligations in other areas, the Reds should scour the less expensive options on the free-agent market in January and stockpile low-cost relief help. They can see what works and what doesn't, and the club will have lower risk. If a guy doesn't perform, the team can be less afraid to cut the cord and not lose much money.

Cincinnati will get some payroll relief without Broxton's hefty $9 million salary for 2015. But the club will still owe Marshall $6.5 million because he has pitched 31 games the last two seasons. Parra is signed for $3.5 million next season, and LeCure is due to earn $1.8 million. Chapman and Ondrusek are eligible for arbitration.

One area of intrigue could be Chapman, who might bring a decent return if he's traded. It would allow the Reds to address other holes -- namely their biggest offseason need, offense. If Cincinnati keeps Chapman, the club will have one of the game's best closers, who showed himself to be more durable and more effective with secondary pitches that complement his 100-mph fastball.

There are some in-house options who will certainly get a shot to make the roster next Spring Training and won't be expensive. Lefty Tony Cingrani has had durability issues as a starter, but he's a former college closer with a mid-90s fastball. Cingrani could slide into the bullpen if he's not selected to start next year.

Right-hander Jumbo Diaz, a 30-year-old rookie who shed 69 pounds last offseason, was often impressive and could be a late-innings option. Pedro Villarreal, who was moved off the 40-man roster last year as a starter, pitched himself back on the roster this year as a reliever, and he has often looked good in September. And there is the arbitration-eligible Simon, who could always return to a bullpen role if he's not back in the rotation.

While their spots might seem tenuous at best, pitchers like Hoover and Ondrusek shouldn't be written off, Price indicated.

"You can't take one season and say, 'This guy doesn't have Major League value on a winning team for the Reds simply because he struggled in the second half of 2014 or basically had a down year,'" Price said. "We have to evaluate this stuff and the probability of these pitchers returning to form."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Emergence of Frazier, Mesoraco bodes well for future

Tandem's offensive breakout a silver lining to injury-filled Reds campaign

Emergence of Frazier, Mesoraco bodes well for future

Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco spent a lot of time together in the Reds' farm system. Both were first-round picks by Cincinnati in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, and together they matured from Class A Dayton to Triple-A Louisville to the Majors, where each made his debut in 2011.

Fittingly, both have had breakout performances in 2014.

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"We knew this was a big year for us," Frazier said. "We knew what our capabilities are and we took it full storm. Me and Devin, we just keep working hard. You've got to understand what your weaknesses are and stay away from those. You know your strengths, so when your strengths come around -- like a pitch you want to see or playing defense -- you've got to take care of them."

Little did either of them know before the season began, however, that the 2014 campaign would be a trying one for their club. With former National League MVP Award winner Joey Votto limited to 62 games so far because of a left distal quadriceps strain, as well as three-time All-Star Brandon Phillips missing 33 games due to a torn thumb ligament, the Reds fell out of the playoff race with a rapid second-half decline.

Another former All-Star, Jay Bruce, is enduring his poorest offensive season. The outfielder admitted last month that he hasn't been 100 percent since undergoing knee surgery in May.

Despite the palpable disappointment and frustration with the way things have gone in Cincinnati this season, the offensive contributions from Frazier and Mesoraco have been a silver lining, sparking hope that 2015 could be different.

Frazier leads all NL third basemen in home runs with 22 (he's hit four while playing first base) and stolen bases with 15 (his other five coming while playing first). He's also raised his batting average over last year's .234 clip by 43 points. Frazier's WAR (wins above replacement) is 4.2, third among NL third basemen.

Despite missing 23 games due to injury, Mesoraco is tied with the Braves' Evan Gattis for the Major League lead in home runs as a catcher (22) and is second in RBIs as a backstop (70), bettering his batting average over last season by 40 points while raising his OPS from .649 to .901 His WAR of 4.3 is fourth among NL catchers.

According to a metric that combines offensive statistics into a number of runs -- weighted runs created -- the pair has accounted for 29 percent of Cincinnati's offense this season.

The Reds will enter the offseason in a challenging financial position with respect to upgrading their offense. They have potential trade chips in their starting rotation, with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon being possible candidates to move in exchange for a bat.

But with big long-term money committed to Votto, Phillips and Homer Bailey -- not to mention Bruce set to receive a total of $24.5 million in 2015-16 -- there's not much more that can be done beyond that to improve the offense. Minor League options are thin, as most of Cincinnati's farm depth is in pitching and there aren't any hitting prospects with potential for immediate impact at the big league level.

But the rise of Frazier and Mesoraco has their teammates excited about next season's possibilities.

"It's really impressive to have those guys on our squad and be able to hopefully trust in them in the future for a lot of years," said Votto. "You always want to be able to develop pre-free-agency talent. You don't want to have to go out and get people at expensive rates. To be able to get Billy Hamilton and Todd and Devin and have them for a while -- relatively cheap compared to their performance -- it's great."

"Devin and Todd have turned into really nice, viable players, and All-Stars," Bruce said. "To have Joey back healthy, me back healthy, Brandon back healthy … that right there is something I think everyone looks forward to."

No one could have predicted that two players who combined to bat .235 in 2013 would become All-Stars and carry such a big offensive load the following season. Without their development into the offensive forces they've become, the window of opportunity for this Reds team might have begun to close.

Instead, as Frank Sinatra proclaimed in one of Frazier's walk-up songs this season, the best may, indeed, be yet to come.

"I think if me and Todd continue to have success like we're having, that's a very formidable middle of the lineup there," said Mesoraco. "I think going forward, it's definitely an exciting time if everything comes together."

Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Reds make Daytona new Class A Advanced affiliate

CINCINNATI -- The Reds' Class A Advanced affiliate will now be located in Daytona, Fla., after the two clubs agreed Thursday on a four-year affiliation agreement through the 2018 season.

For the previous four seasons, the Reds' Class A Advanced club was at Bakersfield in the California League. By moving to Florida, the Reds will now have all of their Minor League teams above the Rookie Level teams in the eastern portion of the country.

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Daytona, which was previously affiliated with the Cubs, will have a new name before the 2015 season. The club plays at Radiology Associates Field at Jackie Robinson Ballpark.

Cincinnati's other affiliates remain the same with Triple-A Louisville, Double-A Pensacola, Class A Dayton and rookie-level Billings.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Meggie Zahneis

Reds, MLB planning to make 2015 All-Star Game a hit

Club and league working hard behind scenes to showcase Cincinnati in July

Reds, MLB planning to make 2015 All-Star Game a hit

While the Reds would certainly prefer to be gearing up for October baseball as well, the club and Major League Baseball have started planning for the 2015 All-Star Game, which will be held in the Queen City on July 14. While most of us probably aren't counting down the days for something that's still nine months away, MLB senior vice president of special events Marla Miller is.

"I oversee the operational and logistical planning for jewel events, primarily All-Star, postseason, World Series as well as other events and meetings and initiatives that baseball determines that they are going to support throughout the season," Miller explained.

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And while her job entails many things, the All-Star festivities are chief among them. That means that Miller and her team have been preparing for the 2015 All-Star Game since Commissioner Bud Selig awarded it to Cincinnati on Jan. 23, 2013.

The process goes something like this.

"Once the Commissioner officially awards a club and a host city the All Star Game, my team starts working hand-in-hand with the host club to start to lay the groundwork for the planning and implementation of the multiple events," Miller said. "This August, we unveiled the Cincinnati 2015 All-Star logo, and in September, [we have] the first large-scale meeting that is represented by the various departments who contribute to all of the plans and activities of All-Star [Week].

"It's special events, it's design services, it's sponsorships, it's marketing, it's community, it's broadcasting, it's international, it's MLB.com, it's MLB Network. Everybody comes in to meet with the club and their counterparts."

That first meeting took place earlier this week in Cincinnati.

But before any of this could happen, the hotels had to be booked, convention centers reserved, parade routes plotted and events planned.

"[We are] responsible for getting all of the assets that we need to showcase the game, Home Run Derby, as well as All-Star Sunday [including the Celebrity Softball Game and Futures Game], the Red Carpet route, and hospitality elements to host 5,000 people, most often nearby the ballpark or a few blocks away," Miller said.

No pressure.

"It's very important to not only create the very best All-Star experience that we can for the fans, as well as the club, [but] that we stay on target for what's important to baseball," Miller explained. "We have a large community program, and a lot of the community programs are part of the legacy that we leave behind after we've hosted; we make sure that our national sponsors have an opportunity to activate on a world stage as well as locally.

"And we try to create as many activities inside and outside of the ballpark so that we can have 250,000-300,000 fans share in some All-Star experience over the course of the five days that we are there [in a city]. … We want to showcase the best of baseball, and we want to make sure we leave a lasting legacy in the city that is hosting and supporting us to host the game. At the same time, we're trying to make sure everything we do is available to as many people as possible that are either in the city or the surrounding region."

Miller is no newbie to this type of large-scale event planning. She has been heading up MLB's special events department since 1998, and she worked in other roles for MLB and the NFL prior to that.

Yet the challenge grows as the years pass.

"Over the years, it has become not just a game, it has become multiple full days of events and activities," she said. "It extends well beyond the game. It's an All-Star experience that's been created, so you have the opportunity to be part of something that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience as a fan."

Every year -- and every new venue -- brings its own set of challenges and opportunities for Miller and her 14-person special events crew.

"Every city has its own personality," explained Miller, "and sometimes we have the benefit, as we do in Cincinnati, that the ballpark is downtown and is an easily accessible walk from the hotels and the various areas to the ballpark. When you are in a city as spread out as New York, you have a challenge to create the same type of environment that you could in a smaller city like Cincinnati or Minneapolis or St. Louis. So we try to take a look at the city that is hosting and make sure we understand what the challenges might be."

In past years, Miller has had to contend with crowded space around the ballparks -- which makes setting up ancillary events, like a block party or broadcast location, difficult -- as well as make tough decisions on factors like outside vendors and suppliers.

The biggest curveball of all? That'd be Mother Nature herself.

"The only real challenge that we always have a game plan for is the weather. The weather is a factor in everything we do," Miller said. "We're a summer sport. Even if we are in a city with a stadium that has a roof for the ballpark events, we have plenty of other events that are outside, and it's always a concern if the weather is not good. We have a rain plan so that we are as least-impacted as possible."

So, what kind of unique logistical challenges will Cincinnati present as a host city?

So far, so good, as it turns out.

"Right now, we don't have very many," Miller said. "We have the hotel properties, we have the convention center, we have the ballpark, we have a lot of the major venues on hold. We have the support of the mayor and the city council representatives, the county. And we have a very rich history and tradition of the Cincinnati Reds, which is great for us -- as well as having Great American Ball Park host for the very first time. My feeling is that they are going to do a first-class job.

That doesn't mean there won't be any challenges along the way.

"Promoting all of the events so that everyone in the community and region has an idea of what they can be involved in [is difficult]," Miller explained. "Obviously, not everyone can go to the All-Star Game. But over the years, we've gotten very aggressive to package things so that even though you're not a sports fan, you could participate in something. You could go to a free concert. You could be a runner in the All-Star-themed run. You can walk downtown and go into an interactive area and be part of a block party. You could come out and see the greatest players in our game showcased on the Red Carpet in a way that no other sports league has done before.

"It's about accessibility, but also promoting the game on a world stage outside of the market that is hosting … to watch the game on FOX, to watch the Home Run Derby on ESPN and the Futures Game and Red Carpet Show on MLB Network. We have become more of a global event. This past year, the game was broadcast in 223 countries and we had 60 broadcast outlets in Minneapolis. We credentialed over 3,000 writers, so it's big!"

So these words of Miller's, then, ring especially true:

"I used to say it takes a village, but it really takes a city to pull off what we have grown into as All-Star Summer, All-Star Week and the All-Star Game."

Cincinnati, you're up.

Time to deliver in the clutch.

Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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