Reds Caravan: Optimism strong as Reds manager, pitchers pay visit to Air Force Museum

RIVERSIDE – Optimism turned out Saturday for the Cincinnati Reds Caravan stop at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

Fans occupied every seat for the first time in several years. Many more fans stood outside the roped-off area where fans sat listening to a Q&A session then stood up a row at a time for autographs from manager David Bell, new starting pitcher Frankie Montas and 2023 first-round pitching prospects Rhett Lowder and Ty Floyd.

The young and aggressive Reds exceeded expectations last season with 82 victories. Season-ticket sales are up this year and crowds of 30,000-plus are expected for weekend series. The opening three-game series against Washington can’t come soon enough for the Reds.

“I woke up today thinking we’re two months from opening day,” Bell said, showing a slight grin. “It’s a very exciting time.”

No one flashed a bigger smile than Montas, the 30-year-old free agent starting pitcher coming back from a shoulder injury. The eight-year veteran will fill the experience role in the Reds’ young and talented starting rotation.

“You guys saw the energy they had at the end of last season, so I think as a team we all trying to build off of that,” Montas said. “When you’re on a team that has that energy that’s contagious, and I want to be part of that energy. I want to contribute as much as I can.”

Montas, who has a career 3.90 ERA and has made 99 starts, began his comeback from arthroscopic shoulder surgery at the end of last season. After making eight starts for the Yankees in 2022, he pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 innings in one appearance.

“That was really important for me because I wanted to test my shoulder,” he said. “And I’m just excited for this upcoming season.”

Rhett Lowder, the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick last year out of Wake Forest, spent the last part of the 2023 season with the Dayton Dragons. He didn’t pitch, but he was invited to spring training. Montas has made an impression on him on the caravan bus rides.

“Frankie is a great dude, he’s really funny, and brings some experience,” Lowder said. “He’s been around for quite a while, so it’s good just to sit back and listen to him and learn a little bit from him here and there.”

The infusion of young players last year like Matt McClain, Elly De La Cruz, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Spencer Steer and Noelvi Marte fueled optimism. The young starters – Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft, Andrew Abbott and others that provide talented depth – push that optimism further.

But general manager Nick Krall didn’t rest on last season and the young talent. He added Montas to the rotation, veteran infielder Jeimer Candelario and veteran relievers Brent Suter, Emilio Pagan and Nick Martinez. Those additions, especially to the bullpen, showed the Reds believe they can compete for the Central Division title.

“Nick and his group have worked extremely hard to find ways to improve our team – we love the group that we have,” Bell said. “One of our keys last year was really recognizing that we had to get better as a team and keep working hard every day to improve.

“The bullpen became a strength for our team last year, and a lot of that was several different guys that could step up and serve in any role. We added more guys like that to the mix, and that depth is going to be really important. We want our starters to go as deep as possible in the games, but no matter what the bullpen is going to be important for us.”

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