CINCINNATI (AP) — Pitching coach Bryan Price was first on the Reds' list of manager candidates. Three hours of answering every question tossed his way ended their search rather quickly.
After one interview, it was over. The Reds stayed in-house for their next manager, giving Price a three-year deal Tuesday that came with expectations that he'll take them deep into the playoffs right away.
"Bryan is exceptional," owner Bob Castellini said. "We've been fortunate to be with him long enough to know how exceptional he is. "I can't tell you how well this has fit in for us. We did not have to go out and do a search," he said. "We had the person we felt could take this team deep into the postseason and then some."
Dusty Baker led the Reds to three 90-win seasons and three playoff appearances in the last four years, their best stretch of success since Sparky Anderson managed the Big Red Machine in the 1970s. But Cincinnati got knocked out in the first round of the postseason each time.
The Reds fired Baker with a year left on his two-year deal after a final-week fade that included an implosion by the pitching staff. Cincinnati lost its last six games, including a 6-2 defeat at PNC Park in the wild-card playoff against the Pirates. General manager Walt Jocketty said the closing slump was a major factor in the decision to make a change.
Jocketty considered two in-house candidates: Price and Triple-A manager Jim Riggleman. Price got the first interview and impressed everyone so much that Jocketty didn't interview anyone else. "I was convinced that Bryan was our guy just because of the past association we've had with him," Jocketty said. "I think that to bring other people in just for the process of going through an interview — to me, I wouldn't want that."
The job carries enormous expectations for the 51-year-old Price, who has been one of the most successful pitching coaches in the majors but has never managed at any level. He interviewed for the Marlins' job last year, which got him thinking that he'd like to be a manager some day.
Given his four successful seasons in Cincinnati, he wanted to stay if possible. "It's a team that's capable of doing even more," Price said. "I think we certainly should talk very optimistically about the three playoff appearances in the last four years, which were maybe somewhat discredited because we hadn't gotten past the first round.
"Considering the 15 years prior, it was definitely a huge step in the right direction," Price added. "But we all have expectations of getting beyond that." Price was a left-handed pitcher for six years in the minors, his career scuttled by elbow surgery. He started his coaching career in Seattle's farm system and was the Mariners' pitching coach from 2000-05. He moved to Arizona as pitching coach from 2006-09, resigning there after Bob Melvin was replaced.
Jocketty hired him to replace Dick Pole in Cincinnati, where he helped the Reds' staff develop into one of the NL's best during his four seasons working with Baker. Now, Jocketty has several important lineup decisions to make to try to keep the Reds competitive in the NL Central, which sent three teams to the playoffs.
Division champion St. Louis opens the World Series against Boston on Wednesday. The Pirates passed the Reds for second place and home-field advantage for the wild-card playoff during the final week of the season.
The pitching staff will have some changes, with starter Bronson Arroyo eligible for free agency. Left-hander Tony Cingrani made his debut last season and showed he could win in the majors, but was sidelined by back problems in September. Ace Johnny Cueto missed most of the season with shoulder problems.
The Reds have to decide whether to keep left-hander Aroldis Chapman as their closer or move him into a starting role. Price would have preferred making him a starter. If he gets moved into the rotation, the Reds don't have anyone with appreciable experience at closing games.
He and Jocketty said they hadn't made any decisions on the pitching staff or the everyday lineup. The offense struggled last season with no consistent right-handed hitter. Cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick tore cartilage in his right shoulder on a slide on opening day and missed most of the season. He returned in mid-August and hit only two homers with the shoulder still bothering him.
Joey Votto and leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo led the NL in on-base percentage, but Choo is a free agent. Billy Hamilton created a sensation with his speed when he was called up in September, but struggled to get on base consistently in Triple-A before his first promotion to the majors.
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