"If the season started today, it would definitely be Hoover," Reds manager Bryan Price said Saturday. "What we haven't identified yet is who is going to get us to Hoover."
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Hoover, who was the primary setup man to Aroldis Chapman last season, has allowed one unearned run over his five appearances, including a "B" game Friday. Last season, the right-hander posted a 2.94 ERA in 67 appearances. Over 64 1/3 innings, he walked 31 with 52 strikeouts and a 1.17 WHIP.
Caleb Cotham, Tony Cingrani, Dayan Diaz, Jumbo Diaz, Drew Hayes, Ryan Mattheus, A.J. Morris, Chris O'Grady, JC Ramirez, Keyvius Sampson, Layne Somsen, Pedro Villarreal and Blake Wood are all vying for what will likely be the six remaining spots in the bullpen.
"That's where I'd like to see the consistency show up these last 10-12 days of Spring Training," Price said. "There's a lot of guys on that board I have a great deal of admiration for in regards to their stuff and their physical ability, but it's really getting to be time now where we have to see the performance. We're getting a good outing, and then we're getting an outing where they're struggling, or walks, or pitching behind, and it is kind of nut-cutting time. It's time for these guys to really take spots in our bullpen. It is going to be based largely on performance."
The criteria isn't entirely statistical, according to Price. The club is looking at pitch location and who works ahead and commands the strike zone.
It's also who can control the running game, an area Price hasn't been pleased with lately.
"A lot of teams are running very aggressively against us simply because we invite them to do so with slower times to the plate," Price said. "Pitchers invite the running game to be established aggressively based on how they control it. If they can be quick, vary their times to the plate ... but guys are running on us with a vigor these last several days in large part because our guys are too deliberate to the plate."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.