Reds bring new confidence into season

Reds bring new confidence into season

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds take nothing for granted, but have carried a confidence throughout Spring Training that they can repeat as National League Central division champions.

No, there weren't any major upgrades or additions to the roster during the winter -- or spring -- while rivals like the Brewers and Cardinals were busy. Then again, when you had the NL's best offensive team, one of the best defenses and a deep pitching staff, how much tinkering can really be done?

The stability is welcomed as they prepare for Opening Day against the Brewers on Thursday at 2:10 p.m. ET, but it comes with a caveat: The younger players are expected to keep taking steps forward.

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"I think any time you have or nearly have your 25 guys set before Spring Training even starts, it's a huge advantage for any team," Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. "I think a lot of people don't give us enough credit -- people come up with complaints about us not making trades or any major moves in the offseason. But so often, players come into their own over time and go from being average to above-average ballplayers in one offseason. That happens when you're in your 22-28-year-old range, the younger part of your career. I don't think we needed to make any more adjustments."

Votto, 27, is the reigning NL Most Valuable Player, coming off a huge year and a jump to elite status. But he is hardly a one-man show.

Right fielder Jay Bruce, 23, hit a career-high 25 home runs and finished strong after a rough start to 2010. Ditto for 26-year-old center fielder Drew Stubbs, who hit 22 homers and is still developing as a hitter. Second baseman Brandon Phillips, 29, is capable of hitting 30 homers and was a first-time All-Star and became a two-time Gold Glove winner last season.

The pitching staff was a stable bunch, as well -- until the final 10 days of camp, when health issues thinned the rotation.

Shoulder injuries put No. 3 starter Johnny Cueto and No. 4 starter Homer Bailey on the disabled list to start the season, but neither are considered seriously injured. No. 2 starter and 2010 17-game winner Bronson Arroyo was diagnosed with mononucleosis and will keep pitching while trying to conserve energy.

Cincinnati Reds
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 CF Drew Stubbs
2 2B Brandon Phillips
3 1B Joey Votto
4 3B Scott Rolen
5 RF Jay Bruce
6 LF Jonny Gomes
7 C Ramon Hernandez
8 SS Paul Janish
9 P Edinson Volquez
Projected rotation
1 RHP Edinson Volquez
2 LHP Travis Wood
3 RHP Bronson Arroyo
4 RHP Mike Leake *
5 RHP Sam LeCure #
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Francisco Cordero
SU RHP Nick Masset
SU LHP Aroldis Chapman
SU LHP Bill Bray
MI RHP Logan Ondrusek
MI RHP Jared Burton
MI LHP Matt Maloney
*- Replacing Johnny Cueto (shoulder inflammation)
#- Replacing Homer Bailey (shoulder impingement)
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart

The Reds have already been able to look to younger pitchers like Travis Wood, Mike Leake and Sam LeCure to step up behind Edinson Volquez and Arroyo.

Reds manager Dusty Baker obviously didn't plan on testing his rotation's depth this much, this early. But he steadfastly remained positive about the situation.

"What you going to do?" Baker said. "Everybody is doom and gloom. I'm not like that. I was taught to find a solution. Instead of the sky is falling, Chicken Little and 'oh me, oh my,' you try to figure out a solution. The problem is going to be there. It's already there. I hate it, but it's there."

The unexpected, but short-term worries about the rotation are joined by other questions. Can a slimmed-down Francisco Cordero take his solid spring performances into the regular season? Will flamethrowing Aroldis Chapman be a stable presence in a left-handed setup role? As the everyday left fielder, can Jonny Gomes build upon his career season from 2010? Can Paul Janish, who had a strong spring, thrive as the new regular shortstop? Will Scott Rolen be as productive in the second half with the wear-and-tear of the season on his body?

If the young core can make their expected improvements and others do their jobs well, Votto believes those questions -- and any others -- will answer themselves positively.

"We can be a much better team, I think," Votto said. "It all starts and ends with the pitching staff, but they're a young group of guys also. I notice huge leaps between offseasons. You can step back, think about the mistakes you've made and how you want to improve and adjust your training. You experience life lessons, and it pays off on the field."

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.