It was only one game. We should avoid the temptation to draw any conclusions based on what we saw yesterday. Nonetheless, as pointed out in the game recap last night, that was a hell of a game. Literally every Reds player who took the field yesterday contributed in some way. On top of that, there were several (less obvious) events last night that will bode well for the Reds should they continue throughout the season.
Brandon Phillips: Leading Off
The Reds have been without a "true" leadoff hitter for what seems like decades. Many of us are skeptical that Brandon Phillips fits the bill. For his career, Phillips walk rate is only 6%, well below the MLB average. In addition, he’s never been one to see a lot of pitches, averaging 3.62 pitches per plate appearance (again, below the MLB average). Last year, Phillips seemed to embrace the leadoff role as he improved his walk rate to 8.5% when penciled in as the leadoff hitter. If yesterday’s game was any indication, Phillips will be a very solid leadoff hitter for the Reds this year. In 5 plate appearances, he reached base twice (single, walk) and perhaps equally important, Phillips saw a total of 33 pitches (nearly 7 pitches per plate appearance). We all know what BP is capable of, and if he can add the element of patience to his approach, this offense could be scary good.
- Jay Bruce: Learning from Votto?
Sure, driving in 50% of the Reds runs while hitting a monster homerun always qualifies for a good game. But what impressed me the most was the approach Bruce showed at the plate on Opening Day. In his first plate appearance, Jay fell behind 1 ball, 2 strikes (after two questionable called strikes). Mark Buehrle then followed the scouting report and threw Bruce two off-speed pitches down and away. In years past, Bruce would more often than not chase those pitches, resulting in a strikeout or weak groundball. Yesterday, Bruce laid off those pitches, running the count full. After fouling off the next two, Bruce finally got a pitch he could handle, up-and-away in the zone. Instead of trying to pull the ball over the right-field fence, Bruce stayed with the pitch and drove a deep fly ball to centerfield, good enough to plate the Reds first run via a sac-fly. Fouling off good pitches, avoiding off-speed pitches out of the zone, driving the ball to left-center field… Sounds a lot like another left-handed hitting Reds player.
- Drew Stubbs: Using all of his weapons
I, for one, am not a member of the "Drew Stubbs needs to bunt every game" club. As many have discussed, Stubbs has a lot of weapons (including pretty good power) and overusing the bunt would deprive Stubbs of some of those weapons. Nonetheless, it was pretty cool to see Stubby-D drop down a picture perfect bunt single yesterday. Hopefully Stubbs will make consistent contact and draw enough walks so he won’t have to rely on the bunt. Either way, with his speed, the ability to bunt for hits and keep the infield "on their toes" is a nice little weapon to add to an already impressive set of tools. Stubbs also managed to draw a walk later in the game, resulting in the Reds 4th and final run of the game.
It’s certainly possible that Phillips will go back to the free-swinging hitter he has been in the past. Jay Bruce could revert back to chasing bad pitches in the dirt. Drew Stubbs may never bunt again. After all, it was just one game. No one is drawing any conclusions after a great win on Opening Day. Still, the 2012 season opened in sparkling fashion, not only because the Reds won, but because several key players showed the fan base exactly what they are capable of. We can only hope yesterday’s game was a sign of things to come.