Christiani might get opportunity to impact Reds
Righty has made strong showing in camp, and spots have opened in the bullpen
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Right-handed reliever Nick Christiani has logged nearly three full seasons at Triple-A Louisville in the Reds organization. Christiani, a New Jersey native, even spent the past offseason around the Kentucky city to work out at Louisville Slugger Field.
"We had indoor facilities that we could come to," Christiani said. "The Bats were great and basically gave us keys to the place. We could work out in the gym and throw in the batting cage."
For as hospitable a place as Louisville is, Christiani is working this spring to prove he is ready to move on -- for good. He had his first two big league callups last season.
"I always say it's a great place to be in Triple-A, but everybody wants to move on and take that next step and get up to Cincinnati," Christiani said.
Things might be finally aligning in Christiani's favor this spring. Not only has he made a good showing in camp with one run allowed over six innings in five games, but spots have also opened in the Reds' bullpen because of injuries.
Coming off right forearm surgery, Jonathan Broxton is behind and is scheduled to pitch in his first game on Monday. Lefty Sean Marshall, who's been dealing with a sore shoulder, has just started throwing from a mound again. And reliever Alfredo Simon could slide into the rotation if Mat Latos isn't ready for the season after he had left knee surgery on Feb. 14.
Manager Bryan Price feels like this can be the season where Christiani makes a statement as a Major League pitcher.
"I really believe that given the opportunity, it could be a great year for Nick to get himself established as a big leaguer," Price said on Sunday. "That being said, right now there could be some opportunity with the way our bullpen health issue is right now."
Christiani, 26, isn't assured of anything with about two weeks remaining in camp. Other relievers Trevor Bell, Jose Diaz and Pedro Beato have also fared very well.
"I knew I would have to bring my best," Christiani said. "We have a lot of good pitchers in here, aside from the guys that have been in the big leagues for us the past couple of years. We have a lot of talent in the Minor Leagues, guys that are knocking on the door. For me, I was concentrating on myself and trying to put the best that I could out there, be more consistent and show them what I've got."
A 13th-round pick of the Reds in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Christiani was taken out of Vanderbilt University, where he played with current big league pitchers David Price and Mike Minor and third baseman Pedro Alvarez. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in West Orange, N.J., which also produced Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello and former Yankees first-round pick Eric Duncan.
Growing up as a Yankees fan, Christiani ventured often to the Bronx to see his favorite team.
"I went to some World Series games. I was there when Aaron Boone hit the walk-off against Boston [in the 2003 American League Championship Series]. I was there at the 2003 World Series when they lost to the Marlins. Josh Beckett shut them down.
"Mariano Rivera has been my idol forever. Kind of the way he pitched, I guess I tried to make myself like him. Everybody always said he had ice water in his veins. You could never tell if he gave up a home run or just won the World Series. He was calm and always the same. That approach was just executing and getting guys out no matter the situation. It's kind of what I'm trying to do. Go out there every time and just know I'm going to get the job done."
All the way up the system ladder in the Minors, Christiani has produced positive results in a variety of relief roles. In 2013, he posted a 3.86 ERA in 49 games with 49 hits, 17 walks and 49 strikeouts in 56 innings. He allowed one run on a home run over his four innings in three appearances for the Reds.
The callups were invaluable for Christiani, who was first promoted on Aug. 22, when Broxton went down and needed surgery.
"To get that experience and kind of get your feet wet and run out on that mound for the first time, the emotion going on inside you and the excitement and butterflies was amazing," Christiani said. "To get that out of the way, you start to realize that if you can control that, that game is still baseball. The atmosphere and grandeur of the stadiums and the fans make it different. But for me, it was being able to control what was going on inside me and in my head, being able to slow everything down and make pitches like I have my whole career."
If he were to make the club, Christiani could bring added versatility to the Reds' bullpen.
"I think his ability to be a multiple-inning guy that is a combination groundball-strikeout pitcher is a nice thing," Price said. "I know historically, lefties have given him a bit more trouble, but he's been able to get comfortable throwing a cut-fastball and really improved his changeup. That's made him, to me, a better prospect for us. He's got good stuff and he's repeating. I know he hasn't had a good camp until this year. He had been here a couple of other times and didn't throw the ball terribly well for us as far as his command and his overall stuff. He did that last year and he's doing it so far this spring."
Standing at 6 feet tall, Christiani believes in himself and that his stuff is a big enough asset for him if he reaches the Majors out of camp.
"It's just more getting my mind right to where I respect everybody," he said. "But you don't fear anybody when you come in there and know you can get the job done and feel like you belong with those guys."