J.J. Hoover says he's ready to step in as closer

Posted at 3:15 PM, Feb 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-27 15:15:24-05

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — J.J. Hoover’s explanation for his bad year in the 2014?

It happens.

“Name me a player that’s never had a bad year,” Hoover said. “I had a bad year. I moved on.”

He did. Hoover bounced back from 2014 when he went 1-10 with a 4.88 ERA to go 8-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 2015.

Hoover’s 2015 performance and the trade of Aroldis Chapman means Hoover is the Reds’ closer until further notice. 

“I’m definitely looking forward to establishing myself in that role,” Hoover said. “I know I can do it. I’ve been working all winter to make it happen.”

If Hoover pitches like he did last year, he’ll be fine in the role. If he pitches like he did in 2014, he’ll be out of role quickly.

Again, he doesn’t have a ready explanation the difference between ’14 and ’15. Hoover had one stretch where his ERA was 1.05 over 54 appearances. He says he was doing the same things then as he did in 2014.

“I did the same kind of prep,” he said. “I just made better pitches and had more success. Same mental attitude — attacked hitters with my fastball, used my off-speed to get back to my heater. My approach hasn’t changed since I got called up.”

Reds manager Bryan Price says the major difference in the two years was Hoover got back to throwing the ball over the plate.

“It was such tough year for J.J. in 2014," he said. "We had to get him back to being competitive. It wasn’t about fly balls or ground balls or strikeouts, it was more thinking about getting back to J.J. Hoover."

Price said Hoover was just over 50 percent overall strikes in 2014; his first-pitch strike percentage was way down.

“He was pitching very one-sided. Away to lefties, away to righties, and he scuffled with his command. He wasn’t a guy who was walking six guys per nine innings," Price said. "But for a guy who really pounds the strike zone with curveballs and fastballs, he really got away from that. He wasn’t pitching lefties inside much. I think that made the biggest difference.”

Pitching -- especially relief pitching -- is all about confidence. A few bad outings can have a snowball effect.

“There are a lot of things that happen from a physical and mental standpoint, especially with relievers," Price said. "When you have a tough year, you start believing that you might not be able to get those numbers down to where they’re respectable. You get beat up enough, you maybe stop expecting to be successful.

“I can’t say that’s the case for J.J. but I’ve seen it a lot with relievers," he said. "They can have those seasons where things just aren’t going their way and they have a hard time turning the tide.”

Hoover spent some time as the closer in Triple-A after the Reds got him in the trade from Atlanta for Juan Francisco. He excelled there: He went 1-0 with a 1.22 ERA and 13 saves over 30 games.

Hoover’s workload and approach don’t change much. He was mostly tasked with getting three outs last year, but they were in the eighth and not the ninth.

“I’ll approach it the same way,” he said. “It’s three outs I have to get no matter what inning it is.”

Hoover, at 28 years old with 3-plus years service time, is a veteran on this young roster.

“I’m real enjoying the camp,” Hoover said. “I like seeing the energy from the young guys. It’s nice getting in the groove of baseball. If any of young guys have questions, I’ll make myself available.”

The bullpen overall is wide open.

“I don’t know what it looks like yet,” Hoover said. “I’ve still got to go out and make the team myself. It should be an interesting group. I’m looking forward to it. 

“I think a lot of people are writing us off a little faster than they should. I think if you look at our lineup. Our lineup is really stout still. A lot of the young starters we’ll be relying on this year got a lot of good experience last year. It will be good to see how they take it into their second year.”