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December 13, 2017

Bryan Price

Orlando, Florida

Q. I know we kind of just were talking about this stuff a little bit but you talked about how part of the pitch to Ohtani was the capability to do a six-man rotation. Even without getting him would that be an option for you guys just with the injury guys and all the young guys you would like to get some time?
BRYAN PRICE: For me, I think the one thing we have is organizational depth now that we haven't had in the past, especially with the strong second half from Castillo, Romano, Stephenson, got a little taste of Tyler Mahle and Jackson Stephens. I think that in a dire scenario that that's a situation that would work. We do have Finnegan and DeSclafani coming off of injury. Homer Bailey takes the bulk of the second half for us healthy.

So I understand the question for sure. I think there's teams that will probably take a look at that. For me, I like a traditional five-man rotation, in particular with the addition of the extra off-days this year. I think it's a lot harder once you train your players to be in this, in a six-day or six-man rotation. If you ever want to peel that back, I think that become as bit more challenging.

We're conditioning our guys in the system to pitch on an every-five-day rotation, at least from A-ball and maybe I'm a traditionalist, but I would like to see us stick with a five-man rotation and hopefully only a seven-man bullpen, so we have some more bench strength.

Q. All of these names that have been mentioned and Michael Lorenzen has been coming up now and he might get a chance. If he goes in that mix, then somebody's going to get squeezed out that might have had a good year last year or one of your veterans.
BRYAN PRICE: Right. The thing that you have to do in Spring, we've learned this lesson the hard way, is that you have to be conditioning more than five guys. You may have six guys or realistically seven guys that are competing for your rotation, if you're in a situation like ours. But because we've really had a hard time getting out of Spring Training healthy within our starting rotation, we have to have the depth. I think it's safe to say that Homer and DeSclafani are in the rotation, I really think that Brandon Finnegan is a guy that can help us in the rotation, Castillo and Romano pitched particularly well as starters, and we liked, I liked what we saw out of Stephenson and Mahle, as well.

So I think that without question with a guy like Lorenzen, we know where his heart is. His heart is having that opportunity to start. I think at this point in time in his career it's a safe time to take a look at it. At this point in time we don't know what type of bullpen pieces we might be able to add in the off-season, but maybe to further stabilize that bullpen, but he does understand that what we're going to do is first and foremost is what's in the best interests of the ballclub, and if it's Michael as a reliever, then he'll be in the bullpen but I would like to provide him with an opportunity to showcase his skills as starter, and at least accomplish that taking advantage of an opportunity to compete for a spot. Where he shakes out yet I don't know.

Q. Does it sound like in your mind really you only have kind of the fifth spot in the rotation that's undecided at this point?
BRYAN PRICE: I would say so, from my perspective. I don't have the only vote in the room on this, and we have to get through Spring Training whole. So we do have to create a depth to our starting options coming out of Spring Training. Homer, I believe, has gotten over his injury issues. I don't think that Finnegan is going to be a guy that I'm concerned with him reinjuring the teres major, the injury that he had last year. And the question really is DeSclafani because he missed some time with the elbow, and we think we got him over the hump. He finished the year in instructional league healthy, but proof's going to be in the pudding with that, and we have to have that fallback and you also have to have the fallback if someone shows up and their arm's not feeling great at the beginning, and may have to start the season on the DL. So the depth is going to be very important.

As of today I would say I've got four guys in mind that I'm really comfortable with in the rotation, that for me would be considered locks.

Q. Can you say who those four are?
BRYAN PRICE: Well, I think that DeSclafani, Bailey, Finnegan, and Castillo, for me. Doesn't mean they're on the team or that they're in the rotation. I think you could throw Romano in there as a guy that is -- one thing we do have to do with the guys that are competing for spots is you do have to place them in certain positions. You can't say that every Spring Training you come back and you disregard the previous year's results and say hey, everyone gets to start from square one together. Some guys outpitched others. Roman no outpitched some other kids in the system. As did Castillo, as did Mahle in a shorter look. As did Rob Stephenson. You have to give those guys credit for pitching well at the Big League level compared to other prospects in our system, that we all really like but didn't pitch as well in their opportunity.

Q. How much of those guys in play for that final spot if they don't get that spot or how much of them are guys you put in Triple-A as starters or how much would you keep in your bullpen?
BRYAN PRICE: First thing is I think we want to define the pitchers that we really see long-term as starting pitchers and guys that we feel will benefit from starting in Triple-A and continuing to add some polish to their repertoire as opposed to simply segueing them into the bullpen in long relief. I think that every guy's a unique case. Last year we had Cody Reed and Rob Stephenson began the season in our bullpen. Both went back to Triple-A to start and both came back to the Big Leagues, and Rob really did a nice job in his starting opportunities after he was sent down.

I would say that there are at least two guys in the mix that have been historically have been starters that will get an opportunity to compete as relievers. Not going to mention them right now, because I would rather talk with them about it before I make any announcements, and make sure that Dick and our front office have their support in that. But I think we have at least two guys that have been primarily starters in our system that will compete for bullpen spots in Spring Training and bullpen spots only.

Q. As you talk about starters and rotation, what is your thoughts sort of in general on six-man rotations? And if you had gotten Ohtani, I was thinking you guys wrote great stories about the pitch, but would you have considered that or gone to that?
BRYAN PRICE: Well, we would, and the one thing that, I don't know if anyone had that opportunity, maybe the seven teams that had a chance to kind of actually meet face-to-face with Ohtani had the opportunity to discuss what he wanted to do. He so badly wanted to come compete in the U.S., does he -- are his intentions to compete in a five-man rotation and really want to come over and transition completely, would his expectations be to pitch every sixth day or once a week, we divided it up and we looked at like a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, once-a-week scenario, and felt that with the pitchers we have coming off injury and the youth in our system and the desire to maybe perhaps limit innings for some of our young pitching prospects, that it would work in our particular scenario. To me it's not ideal, because it's going to affect everybody's ability to pitch on turn or in a more traditional setting. But we were willing to take that shot because of this current scenario.

I would think long-term the desire would be to get Ohtani eventually to that position where he was pitching every fifth day, so not everyone in your rotation is affected. Technically you have to have a 6 man or 7 man at times rotation in order to make it work when have you a guy that's pitching once a week, so it affects everybody in the rotation. We were willing to do that I think for the first year and then take a look going into year two on if we could find ways to perhaps bring that back into more of a traditional five-man rotation.

Q. You still believe in that kind of setup because it's fewer and fewer guys throwing 200 innings now. Teams are spreading around the innings?
BRYAN PRICE: I mentioned earlier, I may be a traditionalist, the thing that I'm seeing is I'm not seeing a decrease in arm injuries because we're decreasing the numbers of innings and pitches thrown. I'm seeing that we decrease the numbers of innings, pitches thrown per season, pitchers that come up on the 40-man roster that come up in September and throw a limited number of innings, or have you somebody like we had Luis Castillo throwing the ball extremely well for us, and we stopped his season in September because he had reached his innings maximum. My feeling is, I would like to condition these kids to be able to throw more innings. So simply because history proves that it can be done number one, and number two, all these decreases in numbers or decreased workload hasn't established or decreased the number of arm injuries that we're seeing in our system. I can tell you that. We have a complex full of kids, as do most teams that are coming off some sort of an injury, a surgery, and spending an entire season out in Goodyear doing rehab. And these are kids that are coming in with a very particular, very modest workload that are still getting injured. Going to a six-man rotation cutting guys down to 160 or 175 innings a year, I don't think that's going to be the answer to the arm epidemic that we're facing right now.

Q. You guys, Dick has always talked about the youth of your roster, like two guys over 30, etc. How much does that hurt you guys in the sense that you have a lot of young guys on your team but at the same time you gave a lot of exposure to those guys last year, and how much do you think that's going to help you going into this year to actually take the next step?
BRYAN PRICE: Well, I think this is the first year where we saw that the painful commitment that you make to youth finally, we finally saw that kind of somewhat turn the corner in the way that our starting pitching in particular performed the last third of the season. Hitting on those same guys, hitting on Romano, Castillo, Stephenson, Mahle, Jackson Stephens. We saw what we wanted to see. We have been down this road so many times in the last two or three years. Introducing young pitchers to the Big Leagues, having a primarily rookie rotation, underperforming, losing games.

2017 was the first season in my time as the manager that I know where our young pitching took a step that built the confidence that we can feel coming out of camp. I feel confident that if we came out there and had any of those guys, Castillo, Romano, Stephenson, Mahle, Stephens, that group of guys, somewhere in your rotation that I would be confident that we could go out there and compete with that group and not sign off for another 95-loss type of a season. That's what you have to get out of that. It's painful to ask anybody to go through seasons like that without finding some sort of silver lining at the end and optimism for the following season. And I think we finally got to that point.

When you're in Cincinnati, we got to hit it right. Our window is, we have got young position players, but some of those young players, I mean now we have got Duvall has got two full seasons in, Suarez is now three-plus, so he's arbitration eligible. Schebler's got a couple years in. Peraza's got a couple years in. So you get to that point where all of a sudden we need this thing to hit because pretty soon these are going to be guys that are in their fifth or sixth season, and we have to make the tough decisions on who we can extend and who we have to look to move.

So in Cincinnati we got to hit it right. I would like to think that next season is going to be an improvement that we have been waiting to see in this group. But not only do we have to see improvement pretty soon, we got to see our window our playoff window open for us and we have got to jump through it.

Q. How much do you expect and how do you expect to use Devin Mesoraco?
BRYAN PRICE: Well, first of all, the time that he's missed has been important time because there's just no way, especially in that position, to stay on top of your game when he missed the bulk of the last three seasons to the DL. So first thing I would like to see, and really need to see is him continue to improve and get back to, he was really becoming I thought one of the better upper-echelon defensive players in 2014 when he was a regular catcher. But we have got to keep him healthy and he will be a productive bench bat, be a productive guy that comes in when I spell Tucker. Tucker's going to get the lion's share of the playing time now; he's earned that. But I would like to think that Devin can help us in any number of ways. First of all, probably catching at least a couple of times a week, as well as being able to help us off the bench. But I don't see him as a multipositional guy myself.

Q. How tricky is it to use him pinch-hitting-wise just given that's kind of -- you're getting ready for your safety net there, if something does happen to whoever's catching?
BRYAN PRICE: It's a lot easier later in the game than early in the game. Again, if you have a fallback type of a player that has some catching experience. The thing that we worry about, is you realize that very few teams have if you don't have a definitive third catcher, whoever that player is, it's your emergency catcher probably hasn't caught much professionally. And you're lucky if they have. So if something happens and you pinch-hit with your guy in the fourth inning, if something happens, I mean you're going with a guy that is going to have to handle velocity and movement for four or five or six innings in a game, and that can pose as another safety concern for me, to put in good conscience putting somebody that's not really a catcher behind the plate in a Big League game.

That's the reason why I think you see the lack of frequency of that second catcher hitting early in the game if you don't really have a legitimate third option. So the thing about Devin is, I think Devin can take when he's not starting, can take some of those premium late-game at-bats against velocity and experienced pitching, and we can feel that we have a competitive opportunity to have a productive at-bat.

Q. Talking about former catchers Shed Long (inaudible).
BRYAN PRICE: Well done. If you have Shed Long on the team is a guy you could go if something -- got into big trouble at least you got a guy that caught professionally and caught through school and caught professionally. But I don't think there's that many of those guys out there. Shackelford's a nice little 3rd or 4th option. Thanks for pointing that out.

Q. You wouldn't carry three again, last year with Stuart Turner was Rule 5 situation but you're not looking at three catchers on the roster?
BRYAN PRICE: I'm not. I think that especially and particularly with Stuart, Stuart needs to be playing. So even if something happened to Devin or to Tucker, it would be a real tough ask for me after a year of not playing much to ask Stuart to come up and be the No. 2 guy and catch maybe once a week. Twice a week tops. From a development standpoint I don't think that's the answer.

So, yeah, I don't see that happing, carrying three guys.

Q. Assuming that both Jesse Winkler and Billy Hamilton are on the team next year, how do you see the leadoff spot playing out?
BRYAN PRICE: That's a great question. It will be interesting. I think that it's, first of all, Jesse's always been an on-base guy. Jose Peraza was an on-base guy, much better on-base percentage in the second half of this last season. His walks went up. He was better with strike zone command. He's 23 years old. This kid is going to be a stud. So I think he's another candidate to hit towards the top of the lineup.

Billy's, he's got to start to get on base and impact the offense at a higher rate. I think that he's been in the league for four years. He has tremendous physical ability but it's got to start to pay the dividends where we see the consistency. We saw really good first half in 2014, we saw a terrific second half in 2016, before he got hurt, and we had periods of time in 2017 where he was, would have these nice stretches. But there has to be -- in that role when you're going to lead the team in at-bats or plate appearances, you have to have that ability to affect the offense at a high rate in order to justify getting those at-bats.

So certainly we're looking at Billy and seeing him be productive is going to be the essential part for him hitting leadoff for us.

Q. If he's not leadoff, is ninth the best spot for him just so he's not hitting in front of the pitcher?
BRYAN PRICE: Well, it could be because when's on base, you want to green light him to run. With the pitcher hitting behind him with two outs, you hate if there's that opportunity to not be able to take the opportunity to run or if he does run and does happen to get thrown out as you're leading off with your pitcher the next inning. So that's where -- if I haven't hit him first, I'd hit him ninth, but I certainly want him to compete and have a great spring and be a guy that could be a consideration to hit leadoff. But he does need to show signs of improving that on-base percentage.

Q. The pitching trends we have seen lately, two big ones, are the proliferation of curve balls and of course the high four-seamers. Can you predict whether this is a long-standing trend or adjustments have to be made because of the hitters reacting to those?
BRYAN PRICE: Well, I think we have adjusted to everything, right? It was a split-finger. We adjusted to split-finger. We adjusted to pitchers when they didn't have to come set, when they're kind of holding runners. We have had to contend with the change in strike zone through the years. Changing with the shifts, the defensive shifts. So the game will counter punch. What's going to happen now is hitters are going to start to define the top of the strike zone a little bit better.

I think that like anything, the more you see of those early-count breaking balls and that series of knowing that you're going to get two breaking balls per at-bat, some of the more confident hitters I think will be able to go up there and sit on an off-speed pitch and effectively find a way to compete against that higher percentage of breaking balls. So I think the game just plays out that way. It's something that's been effective right now, baseball will find a way to combat it, counter punch and then we'll see other adjustments made.

Q. Do you think that will then change the power at all, the guys' loft swing, and also hitting the high fastball out, do you think that will take away power once that adjustment happens?
BRYAN PRICE: I don't know if I can say that or not. The game is changing from the youth organizations up into professional baseball, and we play a lot of showcase baseball, which we want to see velocity and power. People are getting paid to hit homers. There's a lot of money to be made hitting homers and driving in runs with the home run. The strikeout isn't as frowned upon as it once was. I think that's going to reverse. I think you're going to look to find guys that put the ball in play with more frequency, guys that have a higher on-base percentage are going to be willing to sacrifice some power in order to do that.

It's hard for me to say. It's hard to say. It's hard to say anymore with the fact that so many big power arms are getting to the Big Leagues without really knowing how to pitch. I think until the pitching improves, until we have more pitching savvy, that you're going to see a trend in offense as we have seen in the last two years. It was only a couple years ago we were talking about the downturn in offense and the facts that games were slower because of the strikeouts and the lack of run production and outs weren't being made quickly, hits weren't being accumulated quickly, and I think that now that we're seeing that we're finding more and more guys that throw hard but they don't know how to pitch, and those guys are being exploited because hitters can hit velocity, that has been proven.

Q. If you guys are moving rotating your outfielders, there might be some days where if Duvall is sitting guys, could be pretty left-handed-bat heavy especially towards the front lineup. Is that a concern at all?
BRYAN PRICE: I remember, because we share the complex with Cleveland and sometimes playing them and we played them in Interleague play, we play them every year, is that Tito could have a dominant left-handed-hitting lineup and they won and they won consistently. I think it's the quality of the left-handed hitters that you have. If you feel like you're a platoon-based organization I don't think we're there yet, but your are going to have to hit. Schebler hit better against left-handed pitching than right, but you got to be able to find that that particular group that you have on any given day are going to be able to compete.

I think Winkler can hit left-handed pitching. What we have seen from Scooter is we have seen at times in his career where he's been, and it's so typical for left-hand hitters, at times they have the seasons where they're very effective against left-handed pitching and other years where they're not. Unless we buy into a strict platoon-type situation, which we haven't got to at that point, I got to put my faith in our left-handed hitters' ability to hit left-handed pitching.

Q. On days Duvall sits, maybe Devin catches and it gives you more of a power option from the right side because besides him kind of guys who really hit for power from the right side is pretty much just Eugenio at this point?
BRYAN PRICE: Right, that's kind of where we are. And when you look at our club, we could get into that situation where it could be very left-handed dominant based on which lineup I decide to run out there. But I do think that the one big nugget that we have here that's real positive is the fact that with the addition of Winkler, and making a commitment to making sure he gets playing time, just like the other outfielders, you always have an impactful player on your bench, and you might say well what about Billy and Billy's not a big-impact offensive player, but he can steal a base, he can defend, he can find a way to influence a game like nobody else in baseball.

So that in and of itself in the days where Billy was getting a day off, he still can help our ballclub late in a game.

Q. You mentioned Peraza earlier and I forgot to ask, he was planning on going to Venezuela to get reps at shortstop, and seemed like he didn't play very much and went home. Do you know why he's not playing?
BRYAN PRICE: Well, he had some problems with initially they felt like it was his lower back, and I think that that was a small problem, not terribly significant. He checked out beautifully at his physical at Redsfest. I think a lot of it had to do with the conditions. It was really the conditions of being able to eat properly and to be in an environment where he was safe and being able to benefit from the experience of playing, and I don't think it went quite as well as he had hoped.

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