Originally written July 19, 2012 on Fox Sports Ohio:
CINCINNATI What was significant over last weekend when the Cincinnati Reds swept their games from the St. Louis Cardinals was not only they held the heavy-hitting World Series champions to seven runs.Adding more significance to the achievement was that it was accomplished with the back end of the starting rotation, the young guys.Their best pitcher, Johnny Cueto, was not able to take his turn due to a blister on his index finger. Bronson Arroyo, the teams veteran presence and spiritual sounding board, did not pitch because it wasnt his turn.That left it up to the teams three youngest and most inexperienced starters to face the defending World Series champions Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey.And all three pitched as if it was just another glorious spring training day under a hot Arizona sun as the Reds won by 5-3. 3-2 and 4-2. Each starter slapped a quality start on the Cardinals.You hope that was a watershed period for those pitchers, said manager Dusty Baker. You always want your young pitchers to reach the next level. You just never know when they might reach it. Some never reach it and some reach it sooner than others.In this case all three were pitching in front of sold out crowds in Great American Ball Park with the Cardinals doing some heavy breathing down the Reds necks.Its nice to see all three reach the level they showed, especially in that series because everybody thought, Man, that was like the playoffs, said Baker.When the series ended the Reds were in first place by one game over the Pittsburgh Pirates and knocked the Cardinals from 1 back to 4 back. Mostly, though it was the valuable atmospheric experience those young pitchers received, valuable stuff if the Reds make the playoffs.That was a mini-gauge for their emotions, said Baker. And it came at mid-season. If you are going to go a long ways in the playoffs or to the World Series, you have to get used to the high energy in those kinds of games. You have to put a governor on your emotions. Dont let the atmosphere and your emotions control you, you have to be able to control them if you are going to perform well.That stuff is there, the emotions and adrenaline and pressure. It is really there, Baker added.Of the evolution of the Reds staff, a five-man staff that has gone 89 straight games with the same five pitchers, Baker said, Getting a good five-man staff who goes out there every day and performs well is what you set out to do when you put things together. We decided when we started assembling this staff was to be patient, take our lumps early and hope theyd come together learning from each other, from experience, our pitching coach, our catchers, from me, from (hitting coach) Brook Jacoby and from our hitters.You know, you cant be a very good pitcher if you dont know how hitters think, Baker said. Isnt this how it supposed to be?But it hasnt been in the recent past. Pitching, particularly starters, has not been a button-popping thing in Cincinnati until Baker arrived and more attention was paid to who throws the ball instead of who swings at the ball.Maybe before they didnt have the talent or the patience, said Baker. Before the last four years or so there seemed to be a round-robin on impatience, which is hard to sell to the public. So it was our job to remain patient and see which ones to remain patience with.The Reliable Five: Johnny Cueto is 11-5 with a 2.28 ERA, Mat Latos (acquired by trade from San Diego over the winter) is 7-3 with a 4.33 ERA, Bronson Arroyo is 4-6 with a 4.03 ERA and the victim of low offensive support, Homer Bailey is 8-6 with a 3.93 ERA and on a run of good starts, Mike Leake is 3-6 with a 3.96 ERA and even more of a victim of low offensive backing than Arroyo.While the pitching is uplifting, Baker isnt about to say the finishing touches are on the rotation.Youre never satisfield until its over, he said. Your stuff can go south just as quickly as it can go north especially when you are dealing with young pitchers. You have to stay on em.Making matters much easier has been the health and stability of the rotation. During the first 92 games the Reds have been able to start the same five starters no substitutes, no interlopers.
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