CINCINNATI — With his National League team trailing 1-0 late in the 2010 All-Star Game, Scott Rolen hit a one-out single and then went first-to-third on a Matt Holliday single.
Rolen’s teammate with the Reds at the time, Brandon Phillips, was wearing a microphone for the broadcast and was heard saying, “That’s what we do in Cincinnati. We go first to third.”
Rolen, acquired at the trade deadline the previous year, was credited with that team’s aggressive base running. Rolen wasn’t the fastest player, but he was hard-nosed and smart.
Phillips, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, all of the young Reds of that era spoke at the time and in retrospect about how Rolen was the missing piece to that team, the one who taught a young, talented team how to be winners.
Rolen, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, has influenced another young, talented Reds team even more than a decade after his last game.
Reds manager David Bell watched Rolen’s press conference after he was elected in January and one part stuck out. As Rolen was talking about the way he played, he said the Phillies emphasized defense and baserunning when he was in the minor leagues.
“They used to say that baserunning is your character, that’s who you are,” Rolen said. “That is the character of who you are as a human being on the field, and I took a lot of pride in that.”
That stuck with first-year coach Collin Cowgill, who oversees the team’s baserunning.
“DB said it in the first meeting of spring training and I loved it, obviously,” Cowgill said. “I asked him where he heard it and he sent me a link.”
At the start of spring, each of the coaches made a presentation to the entire team. Pitching coach Derek Johnson explained the team’s pitching philosophy, not just to the pitchers and catchers, but to the entire team.
Cowgill showed the players the clip of Rolen.
“The thing that gets forgotten about is baserunning,” said center fielder TJ Friedl. “People forget about how taking the extra 90 feet impacts the game until you see it. Like a ball in the dirt in San Diego in a one-run game, I had to get into scoring position. That’s the little things this team has done so well this year.”
Heading into Sunday, the Reds were fifth in baseball in extra bases taken at 47 percent. In 2010, the Reds were tops in the league at 46 percent and led the National League in runs per game (4.88).
Bruce said he remembered Rolen would come up to him before every game and quietly tell him, “Bruce, I need you on third today.” That was something Bruce did often that year, finishing second in baseball in extra bases taken at 66 percent.
“He’s right, it’s character. It doesn’t take talent to run first-to-third, it doesn’t. It takes anticipation, it takes understanding the players in the outfield, understanding the score,” Bruce said. “When you’re doing that, you have a better understanding of the game and where it stands at the moment and what you’re supposed to be doing. That creates a better baseball player because you’re more in tune.”
Bell never played with Rolen, but he followed him as the Phillies’ third baseman after Rolen went to St. Louis. Bell was a minor-league manager for the Reds during Rolen’s tenure in Cincinnati and got to see the future Hall of Famer’s influence up close.
“If you’re focused and your only goal is to win a baseball game, you find a way to be a good baserunner,” Bell said. “It’s a great way to play the game and I thought he summed it up really well.”
With Christian Encarnacion-Strand in the big leagues, the Reds have 10 position players for everyday at-bats and just nine spots.
Through Encarnacion-Strand’s first week, what Bell has done is rotate an off day for one of those players each day.
Spencer Steer got an off day Monday, followed by Encarnacion-Strand the next day. Wednesday was Jonathan India’s first off day of the season, followed by Tyler Stephenson on Thursday, TJ Friedl on Friday, Elly De La Cruz on Saturday and Joey Votto on Sunday.
Several times during the week, the player who wasn’t in the starting lineup came into the game as a substitute. Encarnacion-Strand recorded his first career hit, a home run, as a pinch hitter Tuesday. Saturday, Elly De La Cruz came into the game as a pinch-runner at third base and scored an insurance run on a grounder to first.
De La Cruz led off Sunday’s game with a home run.
“The tough part is that we do have to give somebody a day off, somebody good each day,” Bell said. “Our guys have done a great job of handling that, using the day to stay ready, but to work on things, just things you can’t do when you’re starting a game.”
Bell said there’s a difference mentally between an off day for a team and for a player. Although a day out of the lineup is less work and can be less mentally taxing than being in the lineup, there is still physical work to be done.
“A day off can really refresh you,” Bell said, speaking of De La Cruz. “That’s how he looked today.”
He’s not alone. All six of the regulars who got days off this week got a hit and scored in their next game. De La Cruz and Friedl both homered and the group combined to go 9-for-23 (.391) in their first game after an off day.
The deadline for draft picks to sign is Tuesday. So far the Reds have signed their first 17 picks, with only three junior college picks and a high school pick remaining unsigned.
Surprise may not be the best word, but the biggest signing was of high school right-hander Cole Schoenwetter, the team’s fourth-round pick. Schoenwetter signed for a bonus of $1.9 million. The slot value for the pick was $640,300, which tells you what the Reds thought about Schoenwetter.
The Athletic’s Keith Law had Schoenwetter as the No. 69 prospect in the draft, noting that his “fastball and curveball project to end up plus, and the changeup isn’t that far behind.”
Schoenwetter was a UC Santa Barbara commit. In 2013, the Reds drafted Tyler Mahle in the seventh round and gave him a bonus of $250,000, nearly $100,000 over slot, to pry him away from his UC Santa Barbara commitment. That worked out for the Gauchos, though, as Mahle’s absence created a void for a walk-on named Shane Bieber.
The Reds are already over their draft pool cap, but they could still spend some money and suffer only monetary penalties without losing draft picks.
Diamondbacks shortstop Geraldo Perdomo asked his manager before Friday’s series opener if he could take the lineup card out for the pregame exchange so that he could say something to Bell.
Perdomo, 23, signed with the Diamondbacks as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2016 and was close with Bell’s brother, Mike Bell, who served as the head of the Diamondbacks’ player development department from 2011 to 2019. Mike Bell, who reached the big leagues as a player with the Reds in 2000, died in 2021.
The fact that Perdomo, who has built a relationship with the rest of the Bell family, wanted to do that touched David Bell.
“He’s turned into a great player, but what a great person,” Bell said of Perdomo. “He’s been amazing about staying in touch with our family. Mike made a big difference for him in his life and his career and he definitely hasn’t forgotten. He’s stayed in touch and we’ve built a really special relationship without seeing him a whole lot. He’s done that with our entire family.”
The week that was
The Reds dropped their first two games of the week, extending their losing streak to six games. The team ended the week on a five-game winning streak, splitting the series with the Giants and then sweeping the Diamondbacks. While the Reds are now just a half-game behind the Brewers in the National League Central standings, they’re atop the wild-card standings, a half-game ahead of the Diamondbacks and Giants.
The week ahead
The Reds have a chance to take back the NL Central lead with three games in Milwaukee. The Brewers have already won the season series, taking eight of the first 10 games between the two clubs. Brewers pitchers held the Reds scoreless for 28 consecutive innings during the two series that bookended the All-Star break. The top two teams in the division will not face each other again after this week. Tuesday’s matchup will be one to watch with Reds lefty Andrew Abbott going up against Brewers ace Corbin Burnes. The Reds then head to Los Angeles for three games after an off day Thursday.
• RHP Tejay Antone (right elbow flexor strain) will make a rehab appearance for the Arizona Complex League team on Tuesday.
• IF Kevin Newman (gastritis) is feeling better and is eligible to be activated Monday. He could also go on a rehab assignment at Triple A, or be optioned to Triple A.
Minor League Roundup
• Triple-A Louisville (51-43) — In his first 10 games after being demoted to Triple A, SS Jose Barrero was just 5-for-42 (.119) with 18 strikeouts. Barrero had a hit in every game since then until going 0-for-2 and reaching base after being hit Sunday, snapping his 16-game hitting streak. He hit .407 during the streak. Of his 24 hits during the streak, 13 went for extra bases, including five home runs. On the season, he’s now hitting .282/.372/.583 in 27 games at Louisville.
• Double-A Chattanooga (49-40) — Rece Hinds had a slow start to the season, hitting .194/.231/.373 with four homers through his first 35 games of the season. He also struck out 61 times and walked just six times in 143 plate appearances over that span. In the 35 games after that, including Saturday’s three-hit game, he hit .349/.423/.721 with 10 homers (and 26 extra-base hits) with 45 strikeouts and 14 walks over 149 plate appearances.
• High-A Dayton (45-45) — C Cade Hunter, a fifth-round pick out of Virginia Tech last year, had a nice debut in his first week in High A. Hunter was 5-for-17 (.294) in five games with the Dragons, hitting a pair of homers on Wednesday. He started three games behind the plate, one as a DH and then in left field on Sunday.
• Class A Daytona (40-47) — Carlos Jorge hit for the cycle Friday, picking up a triple in the first inning, a homer in the third, a double in the fifth and a single in the eighth. Friday night was his first start of the season in center field. He has mostly played second base this season. The 19-year-old had been in a bit of a slump this month, hitting just .171 in 11 games before Friday. He did have more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven) during that stretch. Jorge was still hitting .288/.390/.474 with eight homers and 29 stolen bases this season after Friday’s game.
(Top photo of Scott Rolen rounding second base on Opening Day 2011: John Grieshop / MLB via Getty Images)