Will Reds bounce back after sour end to 2012?

CINCINNATI - There is one concern lingering that will make or break the success of the Reds' 2013 season: Are they healed from 2012's injuries?

There are the obvious injuries: Joey Votto's knee and Johnny Cueto's oblique.

The Reds MVP first baseman played in 45 games at the end of the season without a home run, including 30 games after he was supposedly "healed" following surgery.

It was obvious his swing was affected by the pain and the subsequent recovery. Were the slight alterations in Votto's lower body weight shift of his normally powerful swings permanent?

So far this spring, Votto has proven they are not. His power has returned, he's quick in the field and he's hitting just as well.

Cueto strained an oblique muscle in the biggest game of his career (Game 1 of the NLDS, just eight pitches in).

It didn't appear to be a major injury, just enough of a tweak to keep him from pitching, but there was concern he wouldn't be able to work out ahead of Spring Training to build his strength.

Cueto said he adjusted his offseason program by taking time off to let the injury heal rather than throwing on it, and has looked healthy this spring, with his significant rotation mid-wind up in tact.

"I feel 100 percent," Cueto said.

Physically healed, yes, the Reds' bodies are ready with just a few bumps and bruises through Spring Training. The real injury that Reds players and fans should be concerned about recovering from is that of the mental injuries sustained at the hands of the eventual World Series champion Giants.

One brilliant thing about the offseason is that it pushes the reset button on anything that happened in the previous year.

But there's something to be said for the psychological damage a bitter defeat in the hope of great glory that the Reds suffered last October when they became the first team in MLB playoff history to lose three straight games at home after winning two on the road to start a series, right down to the bitter end of Game 5 of the National League Division Series when right-fielder Jay Bruce had a 12-pitch at-bat in the bottom of the 9th with a runner on and potential to tie it.

How will the Reds on the field react to the disappointment with such promise from last season?

Judging by the mood of the clubhouse this spring, they'll likely handle it well.

"There's a lot of angry people in this camp," Reds pitching coach Brian Price said.

Angry? You bet; all about how last season ended.

"[The NLDS] was a shock," pitcher Homer Bailey said. "No one was prepared."

"You don't want to think about it anymore, but it happened, it's in the past.," third baseman Todd Frazier said.

Once the Reds swept the Giants in San Francisco, fans and players were all but certain they'd move on.

"We went over there and did the unthinkable: Beat [the Giants] two games in San Francisco," Bruce said. "It was almost a formality [coming back to Great American Ball Park]."

But Reds fans all know how it ended back in Cincinnati. With a thud.

"It still bothers me," catcher Ryan Hanigan said.

"Maybe we got comfortable, or maybe because we knew we couldn't lose three games at home because we didn't do that all year, " second baseman Brandon Phillips said.

"Then after that third game we lost in a row, it was almost like disbelief, like 'how?' That didn't just really happen,'" utility outfielder Chris Heisey said.

It's still personal. Shortstop Zack Cozart committed an error in the fateful 5th inning of Game 5 with the bases loaded.

"Not that it bothered me all offseason, but it made me want to work even harder because I know I can make that play, I've made it 1,000 times," Cozart said.

The series-clinching grand slam by Giants catcher Buster Posey that followed Cozart's error is still vivid.

"That still hurts," Votto said. "I just remember how quiet and stunned I was."

Five months later, the memory still haunts, the collapse still lingers and the lesson is still evident.

"Never assume a series is over," Bruce said. "Not that we were going out there throwing our gloves out there, but there was a feeling that the series was over."

"I don't know what really happened, but in the back of my head, [I know now] we've got to punish these guys, we've got to put them in the dirt," Phillips said.

"You can't learn to step on someone's throat to finish them off until [a series] like that happens," Votto said.

Thanks to General Manager Walt Jocketty and the rest of the Reds organization, they've given both the players and the fans reason to stay motivated, keeping almost all of the team from 2012 intact (save for not-so-fan-favorite Drew Stubbs), and acquiring multiple new, solid ballplayers that can contribute to a championship run.

The beauty of sports is that much like winter and summer, it comes in seasons, and allows us to forget all about the bitter cold and the unbearable heat; or in 2012's case for the Reds, the bitter injuries and unbearable Giants comeback.

The campaign for recovery begins Monday, April 1, when the Reds take on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at 4:10 p.m. for the first interleague game in Opening Day history.

 

9 On Your Side sports anchor John Popovich contributed to this report.

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