Energy, fundamentals fuel Reds

Energy, fundamentals fuel Reds

SARASOTA, Fla. -- All spring, there has been a very different vibe in the Reds clubhouse, on the practice fields and in the games. You can definitely see it. You can even sense it.

Differences like these are usually grouped into a team's intangibles category. A much younger club this year, there's more energy and enthusiasm around the Reds. Players have taken every drill and every play seriously. Guys run together as a group in the outfield after coming out of games and hang out together later in the clubhouse.

"Guys are getting the job done fundamentally. The play looks cleaner," first baseman Joey Votto said. "I really genuinely do see a difference on the field."

Intangibles are good, but baseball is a business with a very tangible bottom line -- wins and losses. The big question is whether any of this new attitude around Cincinnati will equate to more wins in the regular season?

The Reds, and their fans, have endured eight straight losing seasons -- including a 74-88, fifth-place finish last year in the National League Central. Since general manager Walt Jocketty took over in April, the team jettisoned its core veterans like Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr., plus Ryan Freel and David Ross. Youth is definitely in around here but the veterans who were brought in, like Arthur Rhodes, Jonny Gomes and Jacque Jones, are considered high-character and leadership type of players.

On the first day of camp, manager Dusty Baker threw down the gauntlet. Baker said he wanted to have the best fundamental team in the game with the fewest mental or physical mistakes. He wanted his younger players to buy into that goal immediately and he's seeking a team that thrives with speed over power.

"Get together and feel like a team as soon as possible. That's the one thing good teams have and good teams do," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Jonny just came from Tampa Bay. Jacque Jones was in Minnesota. They won with less with fundamental play, pitching, speed and defense."

Young players like Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips form the heart of the starting lineup that could wind up featuring six players 27 or younger. The starting rotation could have three of its five pitchers at age 26 or under, including 17-game winner Edinson Volquez.

What the Reds lack in experience will have to be made up in other ways.

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"A lot of times people tend to think the big money and big names will win out in the end," Reds starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. "But if you can get a young group of guys to click together and get off to a good start and let that confidence kind of ride, you have an opportunity to do something good. Get off really bad, and it's hard for someone not comfortable in that situation to pull himself out of it."

Only at 32, Arroyo is on the older end of the clubhouse spectrum. With the club since March 2006, Arroyo already has the fourth longest tenure with the team.

"We've got a lot of guys trying to make this club that haven't been in the big leagues long or have never been in the big leagues," Arroyo said. "Just based on that, you're going to have a lot of energy.

"I've always compared the Minor Leagues with college and the big leagues maybe with working in a stuffy office. All the young guys come up together in an organization and they live together. They don't have a lot of money and they eat together and party together and all of those things. When you get further along and to the big leagues, a lot of times you might be 23 and a guy like Curt Schilling is 40 years old. He's got three kids and a home life. You're fresh out of 'college' and there's such a big gap in the lifestyles. It doesn't mesh."

"Having such a young team here, everybody meshes right away. It's so easy for the personalities because we don't have that segregation based on time in the Major Leagues. That being said, guys are doing PFPs, all that stuff is taken a little more serious because these guys are trying to impress somebody."

Last year, the Reds were ranked near the bottom in team defense among National League teams. They didn't run particularly well on the bases. That is among the reasons why fundamentals have been stressed more this spring and why they're being performed with a higher attention to detail.

"I think, from my view, everybody is giving it their all at Spring Training," closer Francisco Cordero said. "Not disrespecting nobody, but it's hard not seeing people give it their all at Spring Training. Sometimes, they want to chill out and wait until the season begins. That's not the case here this year. It's been unbelievable."

Veterans like Griffey and Dunn had good character and were jokesters who could often rise to the occasion in clutch game situations. However, neither was a fan of Spring Training. Because of his injury history, Griffey usually had his own personal workout program. Both he and Dunn were taken aside by Baker once last spring for not giving it their all in drills, especially around impressionable younger players paying attention.

This year, no one gets special treatment or preferred locker locations. Nor even two lockers like Griffey once had. Everyone, including the few veterans around, give a full effort, all the time.

"The truth of it is, the longer you play the game, the more money you make and the more comfortable your surroundings are," Arroyo said. "That means more times you'll probably show up late to the stadium, the more times you're going to maybe not go hard on some drills. I'm not saying everybody. Albert Pujols has been in the league eight years and they tell me he gets after it as hard as anybody every single day. But the natural progression is for guys get in a comfort zone and we don't have that many guys in here that are comfortable in a big league locker room or uniform. You won't see people taking things for granted."

Teams with dysfunctional clubhouses have won 100 games while teams with tight-knit clubhouse have lost 100 games. Nothing the Reds are trying to execute this spring guarantees one more win or a higher place in the standings, but it certainly can't hurt -- right?

"Let's face it -- it wasn't working very well the other way," Baker said. "I'm hoping people in Cincinnati and surrounding areas really support us and see what we're doing and how we're doing it."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.