Cook's two primary goals were to bolster the Cincinnati pitching and to "get this essentially young team in position to define its guts." Perhaps the best indication of the progress he has made with the pitching is the fact that he was able to release Guy Hoffman, who was fourth on last year's staff in both starts and innings pitched.
Jackson, who in his last two years with K.C. had fewer runs scored for him per start (3.35) than any pitcher in the American League, gives the Reds a workhorse. In his National League debut against the Cardinals last Thursday, he won 8-1 with an impressive three-hitter. Tom Browning, the tough lefthander who won 20 games in 1985 and found himself down in Nashville last summer with a sore elbow, has apparently come all the way back. He was one out away from a 2-0, two-hit victory in the aforementioned game against Houston on Friday night when he allowed a single and then threw a fastball to Glenn Davis, who pumped it out and forced the game into extra innings. The Reds eventually lost 8-3, but had Browning gotten that last out, Cincinnati would have had its first back-to-back complete games since August 1985.
As for the other starters, Dennis Rasmussen, acquired in August last year, is 31-14 over the last two seasons; Ron Robinson, who was 6-3 after being made a starter in June, has rebounded from elbow surgery; and Mario Soto has returned to form after two years of arm ills. In the Reds' first five games, against St. Louis and Houston, the rotation averaged more than seven innings a start and had a 3.53 ERA. With John Franco and Rob Murphy in the bullpen, Rose thinks, "We have the makings of a stability we didn't have last year."
The everyday lineup has a lot more stability, too. Now that Kurt Stillwell has been traded to Kansas City, Barry Larkin is entrenched at short and in the leadoff spot; he has the potential to hit 20 homers and steal 40 bases. Rookie Jeff Treadway, who has never hit less than .300 as a pro, shares second base and the second spot in the batting order with veteran David Concepcion. Rose has another rookie, Chris Sabo, filling in for the injured Bell at third and 24-year-old Terry McGriff spelling the 35-year-old Diaz behind the plate. "Everyone's role is pretty well defined now," says Daniels. "Larkin knows he's the shortstop. Paul O'Neill and Tracy Jones know they'll platoon in right. I know I'm in there in the third spot in front of Eric. We haven't been set before."
Last year Davis, who hit 37 homers, had 100 RBIs and led the league in put-outs, was baseball's newest hero. But this year, according to batting coach Tony Perez, "it's Kal Daniels' turn."
"We've got two kegs of dynamite in the middle," says Rose. "Everyone knows about Eric, but Kal can win a batting title and hit 40 homers at the same time. He might be the best pure hitter in the National League."
That statement shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, despite the knee injury that dogged him for half of last season, Daniels hit .334, with 26 homers in 108 games. The year before, he hit .320 in 74 games. In fact, in six seasons of pro ball he has only once hit less than .300 (at Cedar Rapids in 1983). "But that was the only time—Little League on up," Daniels points out. "Now I feel it's my time to get my due."
One way to capture the media's attention is to get off to a great start, as Davis did in 1987. So what did Daniels do last week? He collected 12 hits, four homers, 10 RBIs and six walks. "I don't think I've ever seen a hitter in a better groove," said Rose after watching Daniels's explosion. "Actually," said Daniels, who hit .364 after returning from his operation in August, "I felt better last September."
On Friday night the lefthanded-hitting Daniels, who hit 22 of his 26 homers to leftfield last year, pulled one of Nolan Ryan's letter-high, 95-mph fastballs for a double off the rightfield fence. He also picked up a sacrifice fly, a single and a walk.
The next morning Rose pondered the stat sheet. "Kal is 4 for 7 for his career against Danny Darwin [that afternoon's Houston starter], the rest of the lineup is 4 for 34 against him," he said. "If Kal don't hit, we're in trouble."