Elder statesman Arroyo takes Game 2 hill
Reds ace has come long way to become veteran presence
PHILADELPHIA -- Bronson Arroyo's last postseason start seems to have occurred in a different baseball era.
It was six years ago at Fenway Park, and Arroyo didn't fare too well. He lasted two innings, he surrendered six runs, and the Red Sox lost, 19-8, to fall into an ostensibly insurmountable 3-0 hole in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees.
Boston, of course, came back against those tall odds, and the same can be said of Arroyo. In the half-dozen years that separate his last playoff start from his next one in Friday's NL Division Series Game 2 at 6 p.m. ET on TBS against the Phillies, the right-hander has been traded, emerged as an ace, suffered the worst season of his career and overcome carpal tunnel syndrome. Indeed, the pitcher who takes the hill on Friday doesn't much resemble the one from 2004; even his corn rows have morphed into straightforward blond locks.
Arroyo knew the trade that sent him from Boston to Cincinnati in March 2006 altered the landscape of his professional career. Then the youngster filling in at the back end of a Red Sox rotation that had included luminaries such as Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling, Arroyo instantly became the Reds' ace. Now, in his fifth season in the Queen City, the right-hander is the veteran presence at the front end of a staff defined by its youth and potential.
"In Boston I was flying under the radar," said Arroyo, who added that he merely rode the coattails of Martinez, Schilling and Derek Lowe. "Where on this club for the last four or five years, I've been in the front of the rotation, and I've had to shoulder a lot more responsibility."
Arroyo has been the constant in the Reds' rotation for the last half-decade, winning at least 14 games in four of his five seasons with Cincinnati. On Friday, he is the pitcher the Reds must rely on to get them back in this best-of-five series after being no-hit by Roy Halladay in a 4-0 Game 1 loss. Only four times has a team come back from down 2-0 in a Division Series, and it has never happened in the National League.
He's pitching Cincinnati's biggest game in 15 seasons, though, for a reason.
"That's why we set our rotation the way we did. You know, Bronson's been here before," manager Dusty Baker said. "He's not bothered by too much; like I've always said, he's a highly competitive, well-prepared, good-time-Charlie type person."
"He knows what it's all about," reliever Logan Ondrusek said. "We've got all the faith in the world in Bronson."
Arroyo himself is thrilled to be back in that kind of pressure situation after enduring some losing seasons.
"It's going to be hard to top '04 for anything I do in my career again. But as far as just getting to the playoffs and feeling that you're a bigger part of the ballclub, this is definitely sweeter for me," he said. "Going through the last four years and being able to grind from the back of the pack and being a team that wasn't expected to be here at this point in the season, for me, it's definitely been gratifying."
Unfortunately for Arroyo, the Phillies present a unique challenge for him. He has struggled in eight career games against Philadelphia, posting a 1-5 record and 5.54 ERA. His lone victory over the Phillies was the first of his career, back in 2000, when he was a member of the Pirates.
Furthermore, Arroyo's kryptonite has always been teams heavy with left-handed hitters, and there is no team in baseball that better fits that description than Philadelphia. While Arroyo has been stingier than ever against right-handers this year, holding them to a .185 clip, lefties are hitting .285 off him -- just one point off his career numbers against southpaws.
The Phillies' lineup usually includes powerful lefties Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez, as well as switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. In a small sample against Arroyo, that quintet is a combined 13-for-37 (.351).
Baker, though, was quick to point out that the favorable statistics Game 1 starter Edinson Volquez owned against Philadelphia didn't do him much good.
Arroyo's issues against the Phillies, though, are almost the inverse of what his Game 2 opponent, Roy Oswalt, has done in his career against the Reds, against whom he is 23-3.
However, it isn't like Arroyo hasn't overcome adversity in the past. He has been a front of the rotation starter for Cincinnati despite suffering from occasional bouts with carpal tunnel syndrome, which sapped the strength from his fingers in 2008. He has changed his preparation and off-field routines since, signing autographs with his left hand and curtailing his characteristic guitar playing.
And just the chance to be pitching in the hostile environment of a fall in Philadelphia has Arroyo smiling in anticipation.
"You prepare yourself mentally to deal with all the raw emotion and excitement that's going on around," Arroyo said, noting the close proximity between the fans at Citizens Bank Park and the visiting bullpen. "You try to suppress it as much as possible, not to burn off too much excess energy before you get out there on the mound and get deep in the ballgame. ... I have a good time, because I know at the end of the day I'm the one standing on the mound that gets to control what's going on."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.