GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Bronson Arroyo is obviously pretty good at throwing a baseball, but he is even better at talking baseball.
He’s the most cerebral player I’ve ever covered. And perhaps, more importantly, he’s willing to share his knowledge, his wit and his stories with anyone.
That’s part of the reason the Reds signed him. He’s nine days from his 40th birthday. Only eight players in the clubhouse are in their 30s. Only six current Reds played with Arroyo. But Arroyo is cool -- that’s the right word -- about hanging with 20-somethings trying to make it in the game.
“I enjoy, even being 40 years old, I connect with young guys very, very easily,” Arroyo said. “In my mind, I feel 25 as far as most of the things I do in my everyday life.”
He doesn’t feel 25 in a baseball sense. His arm has 2,364 innings on it, and he’s coming off two years in which he didn’t pitch in the big leagues because he was returning from shoulder and elbow surgeries.
Arroyo got in his first work of the spring Wednesday. He threw a 50-pitch bullpen Wednesday.
“As normal as I've ever felt, to be honest with you,” Arroyo said. “Totally pain-free. I think the only question mark for me is will your arm actually handle games, because there's a totally different intensity when there's a crowd there and hitters in the box. You start striving a little further, there's just more whip in your arm. That's going to be a determination, but I definitely feel much, much better than I did last year at this point.”
So Arroyo has a long way to go before we can have any gauge on whether he’ll make the team. In the meantime, he’ll try to help out. Arroyo remembers getting a bit of the cold shoulder when he was a young guy with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“You’re coming out of A Ball in your first big league camp, you’ve got Brian Giles, Wil Cordero, John Vander Wal, Kevin Young, Jason Kendall and those guys,” he said. “They didn’t talk to you a whole lot. And, if they did, they definitely didn't make you feel warm and cozy. It was not that way.”
Arroyo vowed a long time ago not to be like that.
“I’ve enjoyed being the flip side of that coin for guys, making them feel comfortable and be able to come to me and say ‘I’m a four-pitch pitcher but they’re telling me I can only throw three pitches,’” Arroyo said. “Whatever it is a guy has a problem with. Sometimes you can’t fix the problem, but you can at least give them a different perspective than they’re hearing from the coaching staff. Hopefully, that helps them along in the process.”
That’s exactly why Reds manager Bryan Price wanted to sign Arroyo.
“He's invaluable to the people around him,” Price said. “That's not just the players, but the staff as well. I've always enjoyed my relationship with him simply beyond player-coach."
Of course, for Arroyo to continue being a fountain of wisdom into the season, he has to make the club. He's never gotten by throwing the ball past hitters. But he needs some minimum velocity to get by, right?
“It doesn't matter a ton,” Arroyo said. “You have no idea what it's coming out at, it could be coming out at 80, it could be coming out at 86, I don't know.”
Did it feel like 86 Wednesday?
“No. But it never does this early on,” he said. “It felt normal, just to feel your spikes underneath you and hit some spots and have the ball move and have your arm feel relatively normal for once, it was nice.”
Pain-free, not velocity, for Price, is the key.
“In 2014 with Arizona when he had pain in his elbow and his shoulder and was throwing 80 miles an hour and still was throwing competitive baseball,” Price said. “I don’t want him throwing in pain. I don’t think he’d throw in that type of pain just to pitch.”
If Arroyo continues to be pain-free, it will come down to what matters with every pitcher: Can he get hitters out?
That will play out once the games start.
In the meantime, Arroyo will enjoy his time back in his old home.
“Everybody on the staff here, the majority of the same familiar faces that I've seen,” he said. “That's just really nice, because when you're a young guy and you're trying to get into your first big-league camp and you don't know anybody, there's always, you know, this anxiety about people watching you and judging you and stuff.
“As you get a little bit older and people want to know if you can still compete in this game, you almost kinda have that same pressure, it's almost full circle back around again. It's nice to be in a place where people understand you and know you and they're not like watching your bullpen and scrutinizing you next to a guy throwing 95 and being like, 'oh, man, if he can't get up to that, he then he can't pitch.'
“You don't have that here, because they understand that I've been able to be successful with kind of alternative stuff. It's comforting."
Those young guys will tell you it’s comforting to have a guy like Arroyo around.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org