Elder statesman Arroyo looking to leave his mark

Righty, nearly 36, is on the last year of his deal, could be his last season in Cincy

Elder statesman Arroyo looking to leave his mark

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- This might be hard to believe since it seems like not so long ago he was a cornrowed young dude winning a World Series with the Red Sox. Bronson Arroyo is less than two weeks from turning 36 years old.

For a couple of seasons, the Reds' starting pitcher has been the longest-tenured member of the team, and now he's also the oldest guy on the 40-man roster. In fact, he's the only pitcher born before 1980.

"I guess if I can snap myself into a 25-year-old body, I'd bounce back a little better, but honestly, it doesn't feel much different over the last 10 years," Arroyo said.

About to enter his eighth season with the Reds, the perceptive Arroyo is fully aware this year could be his last in Cincinnati.

This is the final year of the three-year, $35 million contract extension Arroyo signed in December 2010. Although his yearly salary has gone down each year, the small-market Reds are deep with starting pitching, and payroll has been shooting upward. Three current starters -- Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey -- will see big raises this season via the arbitration process, and there might not be room for an expensive middle-of-the-rotation starter.

"I think it's going to be very tough," said Arroyo, who will get deferred money from the club through 2021. "When you have a team as we do, where everyone is coming into their own kind of at the same time, and add the fact we have a couple of monster deals already in place, it's going to be tough for me to stick around here if I have successful season.

"But that being said, I'm not looking at this year any different than any other year. The preparation and way I pitch won't be affected by the fact this might be my last year in this uniform. I think as it winds down and it becomes a reality, your mindset might change where you try to soak up every last ounce of enjoyment around these guys, the organization and you guys [in the media], and everything I've had the last eight years in this uniform."

For now, nostalgia is only on the peripheral of Arroyo's mind. Front and center has been the same concerns he's had every season -- staying fit and healthy for the duration of camp so he can have a shot at a good season. He also knows the Reds have an excellent chance at going to the World Series in 2013. But that's only if the team meets expectations -- and especially if the rotation does its job well.

Over his career, Arroyo has never been on the disabled list, nor missed a start. In every season since 2005, he's made at least 32 starts. His 233 starts since his 2006 trade from Boston to Cincinnati for Wily Mo Pena leads the National League. In 2010, he won a National League Gold Glove Award.

In seven of the past eight seasons, Arroyo has reached 200 innings. The one year he didn't was 2011 when he threw 199, and that was the year he was plagued by mononucleosis and a sore back.

Arroyo has always relied on guile, changing speeds and angles to fool hitters. While he throws between 86-90 mph, he can still influence power pitching teammates who throw 96.

"You can always get something from a guy that [doesn't throw as hard], even though our pitching styles are the complete opposite," Bailey said. "You see how he paces himself throughout the season."

"It's unbelievable," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He can show you the way. …He works on his craft. I tell these guys to use him as an example -- him and Greg Maddux. When you're doing pitchers' fielding practice, don't be out there screwing around. Try to make it a game simulation. You see he rarely throws the ball away. You see he rarely misses a ball. You don't get that good, with a Gold Glove and innings pitched and wins, just by luck, especially for a guy that I doubted would be around when I first saw him with the Pirates. I've been wrong a couple of times."

Even when Arroyo takes time off, he really doesn't. In January, he brought several Reds clubhouse staffers on a vacation to Costa Rica -- all on his dime. But he also brought along his personal trainer. While the guys were having fun surfing, Arroyo said he squeezed in a 30-minute leg workout. Like always, he brought along an extra ball and glove to play catch.

"There are a lot of real young guys coming out of college and high school that are more well prepared at this point of their life than any guys were when I first came up," Arroyo said. "I watch a guy like Derek Lowe slip a little bit and not be able to find a job. Those are the reality checks for you to keep your eye on the prize. I don't think it worries me because I don't depend on the physical as much as most guys who pitch in this game. As long as I have my mind, I feel like I can be productive enough in an organization to be valuable."

Last season, Arroyo finished 12-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 32 starts and 202 innings. He only walked 35 batters, and struck out 129. That was a major improvement from 2011 when he was 9-12 with a 5.07 ERA. In '11, he allowed a club record 46 home runs and cut it down to 26 in '12.

The chip on his shoulder developed from his 2011 performance, and prompted new training methods that included more leg and back strengthening. He did more of the same this past offseason, and added six pounds to his normally slim 6-foot-3, 197-pound frame.

Even after all these years, the offseason work and the routine of Spring Training, with its drills, bullpen sessions and working out, has never become dreaded for Arroyo.

"The funny thing is, sometimes in life the things you do on an everyday basis you become bored with, or you can take it for granted. But for me in this game, it's not like that," Arroyo said. "Even going to the weight room every day in the offseason, every year that goes by, I look forward to it more and more every day. You're always trying to find something that can motivate you.

"Early in my career, it was 'Can you stay successful and can you be good enough to stick around in the Major Leagues with a small-framed body? Can you throw 200 innings year after year?' I've done all of that. Now I'm coming down on the other side of the mountain a pinch and I'm going to be 36. Now it's 'Can I sustain this longer than anybody else? Can you be vibrant and have as much energy as a 24-year-old when you're 40?' Those things motivate me. Now coming to the park is more fun than ever, really."

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.