STL@CIN: Hoover escapes a jam to keep the score tied

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds reliever J.J. Hoover is a living, breathing reason why early conclusions shouldn't always be drawn about a player's season. Hoover lost his first five decisions to begin last season 0-5, and he then won his last five.

The first three of Hoover's losses came within the first 10 games of the 2013 season, including two in extra innings. He was not discouraged, however.

"I liked to look at it that you can only count on tomorrow in baseball," Hoover said. "You can't live in the past, because it's already happened. I just treated each day as a new beginning. Luckily and thankfully, the Reds stuck with me and let me work out of that tough spot."

Hoover finished the season 5-5 with a 2.86 ERA and led the pitching staff with 69 appearances. He walked 26 and struck out 67 in his 66 innings.

How did Hoover get himself out of the early rut? He credited Bryan Price, who was then the team's pitching coach. Price is now the team's manager.

"B.P. definitely helped me," Hoover said. "We just talked about pitch selection, and that's when I scrapped my slider and went to just fastball, curveball and changeup. It was a good mix and simplified some things. I got back to what I was doing in 2012."

Hoover is working to bring his slider back during Spring Training.

"It's a good pitch for me when it's working right," he said. "When it's working right, it's a definite out pitch. Last year, it just got in between my curveball and was kind of slurvy. I decided to scrap it."

The 26-year-old Hoover was among a few Reds relievers that upped their profile in the bullpen when injuries took out Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton. He worked more high-leverage situations in the later innings than during his rookie 2012 season.

Those situations were definitely to Hoover's liking.

"The higher-leverage part of the game makes it a little more exciting and a little more fun to pitch," Hoover said. "What is so cool about our bullpen is that anybody can step into any of those roles and do that job."

With Latos out, Price taking time with rotation

Latos on recovering from knee surgery

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds manager Bryan Price isn't ready to name an Opening Day starter, nor assemble a rotation, just yet.

Too much can change between now and March 31, when the club hosts the Cardinals at Great American Ball Park.

"It's still fluid. I have something in my head that I would like to see unfold," Price said on Tuesday. "That being said, I'd like to know that we're healthy. Until we get into some of these games and get a chance to evaluate our guys, I think I will withhold those thoughts."

One of the bigger unknowns is the status of right-handed starter Mat Latos, who is working his way back from left knee surgery. Latos had a torn meniscus repaired on Feb. 14, the first day of camp. Alfredo Simon is replacing Latos for the Cactus League opener vs. the Indians on Wednesday.

Following Simon in the rotation will be Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Tony Cingrani and Mike Leake. But that doesn't automatically provide a glimpse of what the order might be once the season begins.

"What I look at now is how we get out of the blocks and match up with the early opponents," Price said. "That's more my concern now. We have some history with St. Louis, who we play in six out of the first nine games. I think setting the rotation to line ourselves up to match up the best we can with an in-our-division opponent is important. We don't know where we'll be with Mat, so we have to look at a lot of different potential candidates should he not be ready to start the season and see how that affects how we line up our rotation."

An off-day on April 1 does give Price some flexibility with Latos. If he were to be the No. 2 starter, the Reds could skip him. That spot wouldn't be needed again until April 6 vs. the Mets.

"We do have enough time to make changes, if need be," Price said.

Worth noting

• Price was still digesting the information on the new home-plate collision rule that was approved by Major League Baseball on Monday. The rule will ban "the most egregious collisions," by disallowing baserunners to deviate in their path to initiate contact with a catcher or any player covering the plate on a play.

"I've been given a summary on what's being considered," Price said on Tuesday. "We're definitely going to have a lot more discussion going forward. We have to make sure the interpretation is consistent with the rules."