Let's face it, all the title Big Red Machine ever meant was hitting. Rose, Morgan, Bench, Perez, Foster: Boom! No wonder the Reds never got off the ground last year, when they relied on pitching and defense. Baseball's winningest team in 1981, they came within a game of being its losingest in '82.
"When you have guys like Johnny Bench, Dan Driessen, Cesar Cedeno and Davey Concepcion, you expect more offense than Cincinnati got," says Pitcher Rich Gale, late of the Giants. No Red batted .300 or slugged 20 homers or drove in 60 runs. The club leaders were Cedeno with a .289 average, Driessen with 17 home runs and Cedeno and Driessen with 57 RBIs apiece. In his second year as a full-time non-catcher, Bench was the league's poorest third baseman and arguably its least productive power hitter: His 13 homers and 38 RBIs were the lowest totals he has had over any full season. "I worked too hard on my fielding and not hard enough on my hitting," he says.
The Cincy attack appears improved with the new one-two combination of rookie Leftfielder Gary Redus and second-year Centerfielder Eddie Milner. Redus, 26, is a five-year minor league veteran who batted .333 with 54 stolen bases, 24 homers and 93 RBIs at Indianapolis in '82. "I try to adjust to where I bat in the order," he says. "At Indianapolis I was the third or fourth hitter. As the leadoff man here, I'm thinking only of getting on base and stealing." The Reds think he has Tim Raines-like potential. Milner, 27, established himself as a hitter last year and fields well enough to push Cedeno to right. "We've got people who can drive us in," says Milner. "It's just a question of our getting on."
Because of the club's feeble batting, Cincinnati pitchers had misleading won-lost records. No one more so than Mario Soto, who struck out 274 batters in 257? innings but finished just a game over .500. But Soto won't win 20 games until he stops getting rattled by opposing coaches and players. Bruce Berenyi and Frank Pastore have the talent to be far more successful than their combined 17-31 record of a year ago indicates. The Reds traded Tom Seaver to the Mets for Charlie Puleo, but Puleo missed most of spring training following arthroscopic knee surgery. The other likely starter, Gale, has had impressive years—14-8 in 1978, 13-9 in 1980—but has struggled of late. "If I get back that sharp slider," he says, "I can win again."
All the starters will be helped if Manager Russ Nixon can beef up the bullpen- Tom Hume is also coming off knee surgery—and if Catcher Alex Trevino improves his effectiveness in throwing out would-be base stealers.
"Everybody's got excuses," says Nixon, a fitness buff who takes no guff from out-of-shape Reds. "We just weren't ready. If we do some hitting, we'll be pretty damn competitive."