GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Everyone in baseball hits a wall at some point during the season; the Dog Days of Summer and all that. For Raisel Iglesias, the Dog Days came early and lasted into the fall.
“I think last year was a long, long year for me,” Iglesias said. “Coming from a completely different system to this type of season, I thought the season was never going to be over.”
Iglesias, a 26-year-old right-hander, was coming from a unique set of circumstances. Not only had he defected from Cuba, the defection process cost him an entire year of baseball. Between 2013 and 2015, Iglesias' entire workload was seven innings in Arizona Fall League.
Iglesias went 3-7 with a 4.15 ERA over 18 games and 16 starts for the Reds. He was brilliant at times. He struck 10 or more in three consecutive games in one stretch. He was the first Red — rookie of otherwise to do that. He led National League rookies with seven quality starts.
Iglesias threw a total of 124 1/3 innings between the Reds and Triple-A.
But all the work took its toll.
“I was not used to throwing in this kind of baseball — a Major League Baseball — but I was OK,” he said. “I feel happy with the results last year.”
He was shut down with shoulder fatigue in mid-September. He also came into spring training a bit behind because of shoulder fatigue issues.
“I had to do some stretching and flexibility exercises,” he said. “But the good news is I feel really well right now. I’ve been doing long toss — all the different distances. I thank God I feel really well and my flexibility is back to normal. My arm feels good. No problems.
“I think this year I’m going to have a successful year.”
Reds manager Bryan Price concurred, reiterating the faith he has in the shoulder rehab program.
“It’s going to help him a lot,” Price said of the shoulder program. “The issue we had last year, like we did with (Aroldis) Chapman, is we can take a look at the Industrial League stats and understand he had some international play, and then they play some games internally, scrimmages and intra-squad. It’s impossible to understand how many innings he threw. I know their season goes about 11 months. They’re training about 11 of the 12 months of the year in Cuba, so I know he’s thrown a lot. But he also missed a year with the defection. When he showed up, we knew that shoulder program was going to be extremely important.”
What Iglesias went through is fairly normal for all rookies, Price said.
“By the time he got to the end of the season, like a lot of young guys it had been their first big league season,” he said. “There had been some fatigue, we shut him down to be cautious. We were cautious in the offseason and cautious on the front end of spring training, not trying to do too much too soon.
"The short answer is, I think it’s going to be a great difference maker as far as his long-term shoulder health goes, being on a program like that and regaining some of the flexibility he’s lost over the years.”
Iglesias is a lock to be in rotation if he’s healthy. He won’t make his first spring training start until March 10 or 15.
“But that does not compromise the probabilities of him starting the season in our rotation on time,” Price said. “That is not in jeopardy at this point.”
The flexibility thing goes back with Iglesias; he thinks that led to the fatigue.
“I had some issues with my flexibility that was causing this fatigue,” he said. “I’m the type of person that doesn’t have really good flexibility. I never have.
“Because of my lack of flexibility, the team decided to put me in a flexibility program in the offseason. That way, my arm could get back to where it was.”
The program worked.
“My arm feels loose,” he said. “I feel the muscles around my shoulder are stronger. I think if follow that that we have been doing, I should not have any issues during the season.
“At this time, I can say I feel really strong and in peak condition to start the season and hopefully finish the season without any problems.”
Iglesias spent the offseason in Florida. Renewed U.S.-Cuba relations mean Iglesias can return to Cuba eventually.
“At this particular time, I cannot go back to Cuba,” he said. “I really don’t have any interest in going back. Up till now, I feel really good to be here.”
Iglesias had been greeting teammates and folks around the Reds in English. He used interpreter/trainer Tomas Vera for the interview Saturday. But he’s moving toward becoming fluent in English.
“That’s one of the goals I want to achieve,” he said. “The little time I’ve been in this country I have learned enough. I understand a lot, but it’s really hard to talk. Little by little as time goes by, I’m going to be able to communicate without any issue.”
Asked what he likes best the U.S., Iglesias cites some things that Americans take for granted.
“What I like the most is the environment, how well they do things, the cleaning, the hygiene,” he said. “I think it’s something you should see everywhere around the world.”