Reds' All-Stars happy to put season on 'pause'
Players frustrated over club's lack of first-half success
PHOENIX -- For the fortunate four Reds who were invited, the trip to this year's All-Star Game is a high individual honor and personal experience worth savoring.There was also other significance for Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce -- it's a much needed timeout from a 2011 season that's been nothing short of an exhausting grind for the Reds. "The way we've been playing, I'm glad the All-Star break is here," Phillips said. "It came at the right time." At 45-47, Cincinnati are in fourth place and four games behind first-place St. Louis and Milwaukee in the National League Central. The Reds limped to the All-Star break losers of seven of the last 10 games, which included a 2-5 road trip that featured three blown saves for heartbreaking losses. "Jay and I were talking about that on the ride here and how nice it will be to put the season on pause," Votto said. "I think, speaking as a player on the team to the Reds' fans, we're frustrated, too. We're frustrated about the inconsistency of the team, not necessarily the players, but the wins and losses. We're frustrated that things haven't been easier. I think that if we pull this division out, this will almost be, to us, it might end up feeling more satisfying than last year."
The Reds, of course, won 91 games last season to take their division and brought most of the 2010 roster back for this season."It hasn't been exactly what we wanted so far, but we're not out of it. Not even close, by any means," Bruce said. "It's going to be a good second half." Not only do the Reds have the experience of last season's pennant race to fall back on, they also know how to regroup after a brutal stretch heading into an All-Star break. From July 8-11 last season, they were swept in a four-game series at Philadelphia. The Phillies took three of the games in extra innings and the last two by 1-0 scores. Following the break, the Reds returned to win four of the first five games in the second half. "It helps everyone to recharge your batteries, to take a deep breath and relax a little bit," Bruce said. "People put too much pressure on themselves and that's everyone in general, not just baseball players. You have to have the confidence to know you can get the job done and prepare yourself as much as you can. You can't try to force things." For the 24-year-old Bruce, this week is a chance to experience everything as a first-time All-Star. He was elected via the players' ballot on the strength of a monster May, when he batted .342 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs. There was no doubt plenty to see and soak in, and Bruce planned on making the most of it. "Hopefully it's not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Hopefully it's a multi-time in my life opportunity," said Bruce, who is batting .268 with 21 homers and 57 RBIs. "I'm just going to take it all in and enjoy every minute of it. To be here with my teammates and representing my team and be here with the players that are here, and getting to know some of these guys, is something special. It's a humbling experience for me. You've got guys that have been here a lot. Hopefully I'm starting my own trend."
NL STARTING NINE
Bruce, Votto and Phillips were among all the NL players that participated in a media day session at the Arizona Biltmore Resort. Rolen, named the starting third baseman by skipper Bruce Bochy, missed the session because he was still flying in from his home in Indiana.Several reporters flocked to see Votto, the 2010 NL Most Valuable Player who is back for his second All-Star team. Last year, Votto was a late addition after he was the winner of the MLB.com All-Star Final Vote with over 13 million ballots cast in his favor. "It's easier this time because I know how to pace myself," Votto said. "Last year, I was beat up before because I had to do the Final Vote thing and then I was beat up afterwards because I stretched myself too thin. I think this time, I will take it in and enjoy it a little more. Last year, it just felt like it happened so quickly. I didn't get to stay in the moment and take it in." Despite not getting as many good pitches to hit this season, Votto is batting .324 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs. He leads the league in walks (66) and on-base percentage (.438), but the 27-year-old feels like there is much room for improvement. "I've hit well but I think I can do better," said Votto, who was elected to the Midsummer Classic by the players. "I feel like I've made improvements defensively, as a baserunner and as a teammate, but I'd like to hit a little better the second part of the season. Sometimes you don't have control over that." Phillips is back for his second-straight All-Star game after receiving the players' vote. The 30-year-old, a two-time Gold Glove winner, has gained national attention for spectacular defensive plays this season while batting .290 with eight homers and 49 RBIs. Owner of the longest tenure among Reds position players since he was traded to Cincinnati in 2006, Phillips has also emerged as one of the game's characters. Much of it comes across on his Twitter feed, which has amassed over 75,000 followers in less than six months. "My first year over there, I couldn't just be how I am now," Phillips said. "They had [Ken] Griffey [Jr.], Adam Dunn and [Austin] Kearns -- a lot of veterans. Plus, I had to try to get a job. I was coming off the bench when I first got there. I was always being myself, but I was waiting for the opportunity to just take over and be me. [Former manager Jerry] Narron and [former GM] Wayne Krivsky gave me the opportunity and it started coming out slowly and then just, boom, it blew up. "Coming over to the Cincinnati Reds was probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my life, period." Come Friday, the four Reds All-Stars will have already flown back to Cincinnati and rejoined their teammates to get back to work. The second half of the season starts with a bang when the Reds host the Cardinals for three games. Last week at Busch Stadium, St. Louis took two of three games and the Reds' one win came in 13 innings after they blew an early 8-0 lead. After the Cardinals, is a road trip to Pittsburgh to face the surprising third-place Pirates. "I feel like the adversity that you deal with, not just this instance, but everything you deal with helps you," Bruce said. "It helps you gain confidence. You know you can get out of it. You know you can overcome it. I think that's a huge part of winning, knowing you can win."