GOODYEAR, Ariz. - I had a long conversation with Brandon Phillips out here under a hot Goodyear sun. The Reds' best defensive player and perennial fan favorite was the subject of a lot of trade rumors this past winter. Phillips told me he realized, maybe for the first time, that his sport is a business first.
"It's a cold, cold world out there," is how he described it. "I really didn't know baseball was really a business until this offseason.
"That's all I have to say about that. I'm just happy to be here. I'm happy I have a job. I'm happy I'm still playing this game that I love. I have no complaints about anything."
He reiterated what he said in the Reds clubhouse after that playoff loss in Pittsburgh last October. He told me he still feels personally responsible for that loss, though Johnny Cueto's unfortunate performance had a lot more to do with it than anything Phillips did or didn't do.
Phillips told me he wasn't the same player after getting hit in the forearm in a midseason game. He played hurt. After a talk with Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker, Phillips decided to play through the pain. But his offensive numbers plummeted. He believed he was in the middle of an MVP season until then. And his offensive numbers, as well as his defense, support that.
Phillips told me his goals haven't changed. The biggest is to bring a World Series title to Cincinnati. I know there's much talk and consternation over his mental well being after the Castellini brushup in Cincinnati Magazine last summer (both he and Castellini are saying it's all behind them). I think Brandon Phillips will be the least of the Reds problems this season.
Billy Hamilton's Job 1: Getting on base
I also had a chance to sit down and talk with Billy Hamilton, who remains the central figure in this Reds camp. In a lot of ways the Reds fortunes will rise and fall on the wispy centerfielder. He said his troubles at the plate last season in Louisville (AAA), where he hit well south of .300 and his on-base percentage was a mediocre .305, had nothing to do with learning a new postion (centerfield). He actually bristled when I suggested that. But it's obvious, those numbers at AAA will not translate well to Major League Baseball.
To help jump start his numbers (he did hit well in A and AA ball) Hamilton has been working relentlessly on his bunting skills in this camp. Billy Hatcher and Delino DeShields have Hamilton on the practice field most mornings before 8 working on bunting. Though he'll be called on to bunt a lot, it won't be the only skill that Hamilton will have to rely on to get on base. And getting on base is key for the player who set the professional baseball record for most stolen bases in one season.
By the way, Joey Votto told me Hamilton on base won't be a distraction. And it won't always be a benefit. It depends, Votto says, on the kind of pitches he sees in a particular at-bat. But know this, the complexion of the game will change dramatically when Hamilton is on base. Pitchers will have to pick their poison. Do they throw Votto fastballs in an attempt to keep Hamilton in check, knowing full well that's right in Votto's wheelhouse. Or do they deal with Votto, knowing that Hamilton could be on third base two pitches after he reaches first?
Mat Latos recovering quickly
Mat Latos appears to be progressing nicely from his knee surgery. He was bouncing around the practice field participating in defensive drills and showing no signs of any knee discomfort. It appears that Latos should have no issue being ready by Opening Day. But, all opinions on that should be on hold until he actually throws off the mound.
Speaking of Opening Day, I asked Cueto if he'd like the ball. He was diplomatic about it. You can hear more for him tonight on 9 On Your Side. John Popovich is in to deliver the latest in sports.
Our excellent WCPO photographer, Mark Slaughter is jetting home today with a treasure trove of video. You'll be seeing a lot of it on 9 On Your Side in the next few weeks and in our big Reds Season Preview. I'm here an extra day and am at camp watching the workouts. It's a day off, but there's no way I'd not be here. My job is my life!
Heading for a high of 81* today and plenty of sun. Whomever invented sun block, bless you.
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