Created on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 Written by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CINCINNATI - Bryan Price's father worked for a savings and loan that had San Francisco Giants season tickets and would make some of them available to employees.
Any team was good to see. Two were best.
"So you go in there and battle for tickets to certain games," Price said. "And I would circle the Reds and the Dodgers."
He loved how the franchises were stocked with stars. He knew it would be fun watching them play his hometown Giants. He even dreamed of some playing or working for one of those teams.
That's why the last six weeks of spring training left him with a too-good-to-be-true feeling at times. He's managing the Reds, one of those teams he loved to see.
"It's almost a constant, surreal experience for me at this point," he said in February.
The surreal part gave way to reality pretty fast.
Starter Mat Latos had knee surgery the day spring training opened. Closer Aroldis Chapman got hit in the head by a line drive and is out for at least a month after having a plate put into his forehead. Starter Homer Bailey strained his groin. Relievers Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall aren't ready to start the season.
The Reds open their first season under Price with a lot of concerns and some interesting changes right from the start. Five things to know:
PRICE'S NEW POLICIES: Beards must be kept neatly trimmed. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce will bat back-to-back in the order against right-handed starters instead of being split up the way Dusty Baker liked to do. There will be more defensive shifts. Relievers won't be used to get only one batter out. Price is planning on a few changes from his predecessor at the outset, but nothing drastic.
BULLPEN CHALLENGE: Injuries have depleted the bullpen before the season even starts. With Chapman, Broxton and Marshall unavailable, the Reds have no one with significant closing experience in the majors. J.J. Hoover saved games in the minors and could be used in that role. Price seems more inclined to share the job until Broxton is fully recovered from forearm surgery, possibly sometime in April. It's the first big challenge for the former pitching coach.
"At this point in time, I won't name a closer," he said. "We may never name a closer."
RUN, BILLY, RUN: Billy Hamilton brought a lot of excitement to games in September with his unmatched speed, stealing 13 bases in 14 tries as primarily a pinch runner. He takes over the leadoff spot with Shin-Soo Choo moving on to Texas. The 23-year-old outfielder batted .256 and had an on-base percentage of only .308 last year at Triple-A. He worked on his bunting in the offseason. The question is whether he's ready to play every day in the majors, or whether he's being pushed too fast.
"I do everything fast," Hamilton said.
LUDWICK'S RETURN: Left fielder Ryan Ludwick was the cleanup hitter until he tore up his right shoulder while sliding into base on opening day. He missed most of the season and had little power after he returned, hitting only two homers in 38 games with a shoulder that wasn't fully recovered. He was able to get it strong in the offseason and was hitting the ball hard again during spring training. The Reds need another right-handed run producer to complement the left-handed Votto and Bruce.
"Every season that I've played nearly a full season, I've driven in runs," Ludwick said. "That's never been a problem."
SECOND ROUND OR BUST: Baker was fired despite leading the Reds to their best stretch of winning since the days of the Big Red Machine, reaching the playoffs three times in the last four seasons. They lost in the first round each time, with a wild card defeat in Pittsburgh last season prompting a change. The expectations for Price, who has never managed, are extremely high at the outset.
"For me, the references will be very short if at all in discussing the past," Price said. "There's nothing we can do about it. I believe I've inherited a phenomenal group of guys that really want to play this game beyond where we've been."
His players are tired of the quick playoff exits, too.
"What are we trying to do here?" said Bailey, who signed a six-year, $105 million deal during spring training. "If it's a thing where we're sneaking in in third place with a very talented team, I don't want to be part of that. I want to be (part of) winning divisions, going deep in the playoffs and being competitive every year."