Reds add two veterans to mix as start of spring training nears

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Nick Krall interview (Feb. 8, 2021)

Shortstop and closer situations two questions the team will face before Opening Day

A moving truck packed with equipment — 10,000 baseballs, 1,000 bats and 160 buckets of bubblegum, to name a few of the items — left Great American Ball Park on Monday for a 1,823-mile journey to Goodyear, Ariz.

The departure of the equipment truck is the first sign every winter that baseball season is near.

“I’m glad it left today; let’s get the show on the road,” said Reds Vice President and General Manager Nick Krall. “It’ll be nice to go back to spring training. I’m really excited to get baseball going again. It’s something you miss. You just want to play games and go out there and compete.”

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The Reds announced a tentative spring training reporting date of Feb. 17 for pitchers and catchers and Feb. 21 for position players on Monday. They are scheduled to open Cactus League play Feb. 27 against the Cleveland Indians in Goodyear. Opening Day follows less than five weeks later on April 1 against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Reds broke a six-year streak of losing records by finishing 31-29 in the 60-game 2020 season and will return many of the same faces in the lineup, but there are some big questions to answer in spring training. Here are the top three:

1. Who will play shortstop?

The Reds signed veteran Dee Strange-Gordon, 32, to a minor league contract Monday with an invitation to major league spring training. He is baseball’s active leader in career stolen bases (333). Strange-Gordon has played 176 games at shortstop in his 10-year career but has spent much more time at second base (728 games).

Last season, Strange-Gordon hit .200 in 33 games with the Seattle Mariners. He’s another option for a team looking for a shortstop to play in an infield with three returning starters: first baseman Joey Votto; second baseman Mike Moustakas; and third baseman Eugenio Suarez.

“We’ve got a handful of guys that are competing for the shortstop position at this point,” Krall said. “Dee hasn’t really played there consistently since, I think, 2013, so he’s going to come in and compete for a utility role and will probably get some time at shortstop to see where he is there and, but he’s going to probably play all over the field as well.”

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Krall mentioned Kyle Farmer, Jose Garcia and Kyle Holder, who the Reds acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies on Jan. 30, as other shortstop possibilities.

“Kyle Farmer was a solid shortstop and did a good job especially hitting left-handed hitting last season,” Krall said. “Kyle Holder’s a left-handed hitter who plays good defense. I think we’re going to do what we can with that group. That’s what we have right now. I do believe in those guys. Jose Garcia’s got a lot of tools and really can make a difference. It’s just making sure he puts everything together and becomes the player he needs to be.”

2. Who will win the closer’s role?

The Reds signed veteran closer Sean Doolittle to a one-year contract on Monday. Doolittle, 34, pitched the last four seasons with the Washington Nationals. He was 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA in 11 relief appearances in the 60-game 2020 season. He was on the injured list twice with knee and oblique injuries.

Two years ago, when the Nationals won the Worlds Series, Doolittle was 6-5 and recorded 29 saves and had a 4.05 ERA in 63 games. He was an All-Star in 2018 when he was 3-3 with a 1.60 ERA and 25 saves in 43 games.

The Reds traded longtime closer Raisel Iglesias to the Los Angeles Angels in December but could give the job to Amir Garrett, who had his best season in 2020 (2.45 ERA in 21 appearances). Doolittle will get the chance to compete for the role.

“Sean’s been a good closer in the big leagues for a long time,” Krall said. “He comes in with a track record of doing that. He got hurt last year and struggled at the beginning of last season, and he came back and pitched well at the end of the season. I think we’re going to be open minded about how we can use everybody.”

3. Who will make up the starting rotation?

With Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Anthony DeSclafani signing with the San Francisco Giants, the Reds lost two pitchers who combined for 18 starts. The returners are Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle and Wade Miley.

Other options, Krall said, are Michael Lorenzen, Tejay Antone, Jose De Leon and Jeff Hoffman, who the Reds acquired from the Colorado Rockies in November.

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