GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Even when he landed at the airport in Phoenix for Spring Training, Reds starter Bronson Arroyo was still thinking about how bad 2011 turned out. The numbers still nag and sting like a paper cut rubbed with lemon juice. A 9-12 record with a 5.07 ERA is what will live on the back of Arroyo's baseball card forever. While he can't change that fact, he did everything in his power this offseason to ensure that it does not happen again. "For me, every single day of this offseason was getting back here," said Arroyo, who turns 35 on Friday. "I've never been so antsy to get back into a baseball uniform my whole career. I've seen a lot of guys vanish from this game at the age I'm at, even if they've had productive years previously. I'm antsy to get back and show I can win 15 games each of the next five years straight, and not disappear to nowhere and it'd be like, 'What ever happened to that guy? He was pretty good prior to 2011.'"
Often when his records haven't been the prettiest, Arroyo could always still hang his hat on being consistent and productive. Before last year, he had six straight seasons of 200 innings pitched, and came tantalizingly close to that figure in 2011 with 199 innings pitched. From 2008-10, he won at least 15 games, including a career-best 17 for the division-winning Reds in 2010. Last season, Arroyo led the Majors with a club-record 46 home runs allowed -- four shy of the single-season record and a whopping 11 more than the No. 2 pitcher. He also led the National League with 119 runs allowed -- 112 of which were earned -- and was third with 227 hits allowed.
Although the homers mark is dubious, Arroyo gave up only 45 walks and was only the second pitcher in MLB history to allow at least 40 HRs while issuing fewer than 50 walks. Robin Roberts did that twice in 1956 and '57."He never complained, and he never [had an] alibi about nothing," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He took his lumps. We took our lumps along with him. We need him to return to form. He's big in the equation." If Arroyo did make an excuse, he would have a good one -- at least from the beginning of the season. During Spring Training he was diagnosed with energy-sapping mononucleosis, but he never missed a turn in the rotation. "Perhaps it was more serious than anybody knew about," Baker said. "You think about mono as a teenage disease." After Arroyo's energy improved, he was still lacking velocity and location, hence the high runs and home runs totals. A pitch that normally can reach 90-91 mph, he was lucky to get up to 86-88 mph at times last season. He was already someone with a thin margin for error because he's not a power pitcher. As soon as the season ended, Arroyo didn't waste time getting back to work. And it wasn't the type of training he was accustomed to doing. "I totally retooled my entire workout program and did things I've never done before," Arroyo said. "A lot of lunging, a lot of back exercises I've never done before to try and strengthen my back so I can use my legs. Over time my lower back has gotten to the point where it inhibits me from doing squats, and I haven't been able to use my legs. My flexibility has gotten worse in the whole hip region. I worked on that the whole offseason, as well as the regular things like my scapula and shoulder. That was a huge transition for me, a lot of core work and a lot of back work." Through only two bullpen sessions, the latest coming on Thursday, it's too early for Arroyo to tell if he's got zip back on the ball. More will be known once exhibition games begin. "I feel as good as I'm going to feel," Arroyo said. "But if I'm throwing 85-88 consistently this year, then Bronson Arroyo is going to pitch that the rest of his career, because that's all there is in the tank." If that's all that is left, it won't be because of lack of effort. While he's never been a runner and has never needed to ice his arm, Arroyo is considered one of the hardest working pitchers on the club and takes good care of his body. A Major Leaguer since 2000, he has never spent time on the disabled list. Arriving during Spring Training in 2006 from the Red Sox in a lopsided trade for Wily Mo Pena, Arroyo is the longest tenured member of the Reds. He is also signed through the 2013 season as part of a three-year, $35 million extension that he signed in December of 2010. "He's a great example for the young guys on how to go about your business," Baker said. "Everybody sees him as this fun-loving, guitar-playing dude, but this cat works hard. I've never seen a dude not take an All-Star break off. He comes to the stadium and works out. Or when he comes in for Redsfest, he's working out and throwing. He takes his career very seriously." Where Baker will slot Arroyo in the rotation remains a mystery, but it would seem likely to be either third, fourth or fifth. He pitched in the third spot last season, and his ability to eat innings can bridge a gap among the younger pitchers on the staff. "Taking the ball every fifth day is one thing I'm proud of, but that's not the end of the story," Arroyo said. "You also have to be productive in that consistency, to be able to stick around in this game for 10-12 years. I've always enjoyed being the guy that you know what you're going to get."