At helm of contender, Price embraces expectations
First-year manager says Reds must look within to see why club has fallen short
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Since being promoted by the Reds from pitching coach to manager in October, Bryan Price has had little to no downtime. There have been meetings, the assembling of a coaching staff, Redsfest and the preparation for 2014.
Who needs idle hands? Not Price.
"Really busy," Price characterized his last month-plus to reporters during Monday's Winter Meetings media session. "This has been good vacation time, usually. The Christmas tree is going up and all that stuff, but it's been great. You know how few people ever get an opportunity to do this. It really is something that hit me sideways. I wasn't expecting this to happen and it did.
"I think if you do this long enough, you're either really comfortable in your spot or have a little bit more of a voice and a little bit more of an impact on the way a ballclub plays. I think that's kind of where my career was going. I don't think I would be a pitching coach until I was 55 or 60. I think I would have gotten out and done something else."
Price, 51, is now charged with trying to get the Reds over a hump they couldn't get over under Dusty Baker. The club won 90 or more games and reached the postseason in three of the last four seasons, but didn't win a single playoff series.
Baker was dismissed when the Reds concluded 2013 with a six-game losing streak, including a National League Wild Card Game loss at Pittsburgh. Price isn't being handed a rebuilding effort or five-year plan. The blueprint is to challenge for the NL Central title, and then go way beyond.
"It's great. I don't mind expectations," Price said. "One thing I know is that [if] you spend too much time worrying about your job, you lose the job. You just worry about going out and doing the job, and that's all that really matters. … I think the cup is definitely half full in this situation because we've gotten to the point where we've turned the corner from just expecting to make the playoffs. We're expected to do a lot more. I'm really tickled to have an opportunity to maybe be that guy to do that."
How does a team like the Reds take the next step? Price suggested first looking at the Red Sox and Cardinals, who reached the World Series this year. He liked how both teams grinded and did not take stretches of games off and understood the importance of every at-bat and opportunity.
The Reds also need to look within to find what was missing from their performances.
"Talking to the guys on the team after I got this job, there was definitely a strong understanding of opportunity missed there in 2013 and in 2012," Price said. "And it was somewhat of a shocker to fall out of the playoff race in 2012 and not come back even more hungry to do damage in 2013. … There's parts of our game that we just need to get better -- baserunning, situational offense, appreciating the opportunities is something that seems to resonate with all of our guys. I think everyone has some responsibility in it."
As for specific issues, Price was asked about criticism of the club's best hitter, Joey Votto, and whether he should change his approach to drive in more runs. Price wasn't in favor of Votto expanding his strike zone and chasing bad pitches. But he suggested something more subtle.
"I think it can be very difficult to work hard to get an understanding of the strike zone and be able to manage it like Joey does, and then ask him to go outside that strike zone to be productive with runners in scoring position," Price said. "I think what we hope is that he's able to take advantage of more of those cripple counts, those times he's in a good count and maybe not be quite as selective in that situation, still trying to hit strikes, but maybe not there's sometimes where he got deeper into the at bat, but may have had some pitches to hit.
In the end, he really did have a phenomenal year, and I think he's conscientious, that one of his responsibilities will be to drive in runs, and we've got to present him with those opportunities, and I think we'll see some differences between 2013 and 2014."
Price declined to reveal what he's been thinking about for his lineup construction. But he wasn't opposed to potentially going against the grain from the conventional, like batting a pitcher eighth to create more RBI chances for the No. 2 hitter like Tony La Russa often did or setting different defensive shifts like Joe Maddon.
"A never say never policy is something I never worked with in pitching. It's the same way with setting the lineup and defensive shifts," Price said. "The one thing we have now that we didn't have years ago is an awful lot of data. And if we're not willing to use that data to our advantage, then I think we're kind of barking up the wrong tree."
Price has been lauded by his players in the past for his communication skills. He expects to extend his message in collaboration with his coaching staff.
"I have strong opinions when it comes to pitching because I realize that I was the one guy that was with the pitchers for every pitch that they threw both in the bullpen and in the games. And I think that has value," Price said. "There's value to my opinion in coming to deal with the guys that I'm with every day. Managing is going to be hard to have as close a relationship with every player as I had with the pitchers these past several years ago. The collaboration is certainly a huge part of our development with this club, for sure."