Reds still have plenty on their plate this spring

Longer schedule affords team more time to round into regular-season form

Reds still have plenty on their plate this spring

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A supersized Spring Training, brought on by the World Baseball Classic, has the Reds pacing themselves like there was a giant Thanksgiving turducken on the table, with all the side dishes.

Having key players feast on too much playing time too soon does no one any good. There is no sense peaking into regular-season form before mid-March. In fact, the Reds still have 19 days remaining, and they seem to have barely scratched the surface on some of the important stuff.

The single biggest and most intriguing question of camp -- whether Aroldis Chapman will make the rotation or remain as the closer -- isn't expected to be answered until near the end of camp.

Chapman, who has a 2.25 ERA in two games, was sensational in his first start and solid, but not great, in his second outing. Mike Leake, the other top contender for the spot, has a 1.80 ERA and is coming off of a very good second outing. Both Leake and Chapman were scheduled to spend Monday's off-day pitching in the Minor League camp.

The battle for the final infield bench spots has been spirited and encouraging, as Jason Donald, Cesar Izturis and Emmanuel Burriss have all played well. Donald remains on the inside track because he is already on the 40-man roster, while Izturis and Burriss are non-roster players.

In the competition for the No. 2 catcher's spot, Devin Mesoraco has looked very good offensively, batting .400 (6-for-15) with two homers. Miguel Olivo, a non-roster invite, is batting .118 (2-for-17) with one homer.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign this spring has been leadoff batter Shin-Soo Choo, who was the biggest acquisition of winter. Choo, who is batting .421 (8-for-19, with two walks), has reached safely five times in his eight games and scored seven runs. He was 4-for-4 with two steals on Sunday against the White Sox. His adjustment to center field was temporarily delayed by a right quadriceps injury, but Choo has yet to look overmatched in an unfamiliar spot.

Spring Training is never a time to fret over wins and losses, which is a good thing for a Reds team that has piled up many more defeats than victories in Cactus League play this spring.

Cincinnati, which enjoyed its second off-day of the spring on Monday, has a 4-11 record, even after winning two games in a row. Those wins came after seven straight losses. That record has company with another expected contender, the Angels (3-10-2).

"I don't think anybody remembers who won the Cactus League," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "You're never pleased with losing. But I realize we've lost some of the games late in the game with guys that aren't going to be on the team to start. We also play everybody here, not only to get them ready for our season and to evaluate them, but to get them ready for their season wherever they're going to play."

Last year, the Reds finished spring with a 15-17 record and wound up winning 97 games and the National League Central title. The NL East champs, the Nationals, won 98 games after going 12-17 in the Grapefruit League. The Blue Jays had the best record last spring at 24-7 and won only 73 games during the regular season.

Right-handed pitcher Josh Ravin has taken three of the Reds' losses this spring while posting a 40.50 ERA. Ravin has only 20 games at the Double-A level in his career. Other pitchers who have seen action, like Carlos Contreras, Daniel Corcino and Wilkin De La Rosa, are either in Class A or Double-A.

"There are times you'd ordinarily take a guy out of the game, but they need their work or else they'll never get there," Baker said.

Meanwhile, the Reds have been without cornerstone players Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips while they play in the World Baseball Classic. Votto is set to return after Team Canada was eliminated on Sunday. Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick and Zack Cozart are just in the beginning stages of finding their swings again.

Because of the earlier start to camp and exhibition games, the Reds didn't use members of the rotation at all in the first few games. The starting pitchers have yet to pitch more than three innings in a game.

"The main thing is, our rotation is amongst the best," Baker said. "I ain't worried about the offense. I ain't worried about nothing. We know we've got a good team. You just have to keep working and keep working."

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.