Yasiel Puig of the Cincinnati Reds is restrained after being hit by a pitch from Pedro Strop of the Chicago Cubs in the eighth inning at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati on Saturday, June 29, 2019. The Cubs won, 6-0. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Photo: Joe Robbins
Photo: Joe Robbins

For Pedro Strop and the Reds, winning erases past rivalries

Strop signed a one-year contract with the Reds on Feb. 5 for $1,825,000. It was the final touch on the Reds’ $165 million offseason makeover.

Reds players have peered at the right-hander, who has saved 32 games in his career, from the batter’s box or across the infield. Several times in combative situations. The benches emptied in 2018 when Amir Garrett had heated words with Javier Baez. Yasiel Puig took exception to one of Strop’s pitches last season, leading to a two-team square off.

Garrett wasted no time in greeting Strop.

“He’s a teammate now. Someone like him is able to fit in right away,” Garrett said. “Especially coming from a team like the Cubs, there’s a rivalry there. We needed to welcome him with open arms. I wanted him to know that no matter how many times we played against each other, this is his home now.”

Garrett’s desire to win brought him closer to his former rival and Strop felt it.

“They have a hunger to win, just like me,” Strop said. “Everybody knows how baseball is. You compete hard and you want to win. Stuff is going to happen on the field. I just think they were on the field to play baseball. We’re going to be on the field to play baseball.”

It is baseball that binds the former adversaries. Fans may hold a grudge. Players will embrace anyone who will help them win.

“They are making the transition very easy,” Strop said. “They are good guys. It hasn’t been that hard.”

Strop is another first-year Reds’ player who has playoff experience. He holds the Cubs record with 20 postseason appearances, including three scoreless innings in the 2016 World Series. Strop was with Baltimore’s playoff squad in 2012, where he added two more games. He has given up four runs in 19 1/3 innings (1.86 ERA) in the playoffs.

Working mostly in middle relief and in dangerous, clutch situations for the Cubs from mid-2013, Strop appeared in 309 games and covered more than 373 innings, 1 2/3 per outing. More relievers will be tasked with pitching longer stretches in 2020. Under new rules, a pitcher must face a minimum of three batters or finish an inning during an appearance. The new rules cap the number of pitchers on the roster at 13.

The Cubs acquired Strop from Baltimore with Jake Arrietta for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger in the middle of the 2013 season. David Bell was a coach with the Cubs then and spent five years on the St. Louis Cardinals coaching staff. He knows Strop well.

“He has the weapons to get left-handers and right-handers out,” Bell said. “He’s pitched in a lot pressure situations, a lot of important games. There isn’t anything he hasn’t handled as far as pressure. I have a great deal of respect for him as a pitcher and a person. I trust him based on seeing him do it for years. I’ve been in the same division and have seen him get the best hitters in the game out. He adds a real presence to our bullpen.”

Strop was healthy in 2017 and 2018. The Cubs brought him back after the 2018 season. This season the Cubs appear to be starting a rebuild with a new manager, leaving Strop free to sign anywhere. He was on the injured list twice last season with a left hamstring injury and neck tightness. Still he appeared in 50 games, saving 10 of them, but his ERA was high at 4.97 after five straight seasons below 3.00.

“Everybody knows how free agency works,” Strop said. “You look around. You see what teams want you. Then you make your decision based on the opportunity to win.”

Strop doesn’t care how he is used or what innings he is asked to work.

“Whatever helps the team win, that’s what I’m going to do,” Strop said.

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