CINCINNATI-Clubhouses are almost all alike. With the influx of new stadiums, they’re all big, roomy, and filled with TVs and comfortable chairs. The clubhouse inside of Great American Ballpark is much the same, though it feels very different without the presence of Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, two larger-than-life personalities who had dominated that clubhouse since the place opened, even after Dusty Baker took over last season. The leather couches and chairs seem empty without those two around, and for the most part, they were.

I took my first trip of the year down to Cincinnati and joined the gaggle of beat writers for a day. It’s a great group that includes Mark Sheldon, C. Trent Rosecrans, and John Fay, but augmented by Marty Brennaman, the Reds‘ longtime announcer who held court. Brennaman was great, laughing about the goings-on of Opening Day, talking about the coaching situation at local Xavier, and explaining to me how Jeff Brantley came to be known as “The Cowboy”. (Answer: Dusty Baker hung it on him years ago.)

The writers’ group readied for their daily meeting with Baker in his office. It’s a typical office, with only the pictures on the wall differentiating this standard desk-and-chair cubicle-style setup from that of any other manager. There’s a picture from Easy Rider on the wall, something that seems a bit out of place, but Baker’s not an easy one to categorize. We have the audio up at the BP Radio page, so you can hear exactly what it sounds like. Naturally, I got in a question about Aaron Harang‘s 114-pitch outing, which caused Dusty to raise an eyebrow before answering with more thought than most would expect.

Out on the field during batting practice it begins to feel as if you have that ‘best seat in the house,’ standing fifty feet from the cage, over by the dugout, seeing the swings the players are taking, hearing the coaches instructing, and occasionally overhearing something that surprises. Willy Taveras had missed Opening Day with the flu, but as he came out to the field, Dusty Baker stopped him in the dugout and asked “How are you doing? Are you sleeping well? Keeping food down?” It was almost touching, hearing Baker speak in a caring tone to one of his players, while at the same time looking for information he’d need. We often laugh at talk of a manager looking a guy in the eye, but that’s what Baker did, and perhaps that gave him enough confidence to use Taveras as a pinch-hitter that night.

In the Mets‘ clubhouse, there was some confidence in the air after an Opening Day win that involved both J.J. Putz and Frankie Rodriguez. Rodriguez, who I’d met in Las Vegas at the Winter Meetings, talked briefly with me about pitching versus throwing and what he’s learned about the National League, while Putz nodded, either to Rodriguez’s points or to whatever was playing on his iPod. The rest of the team seemed very loose, especially Jose Reyes. I started to ask Johan Santana how he felt after his first start, but he anticipated the question and told me “I’m fine.”

It was my own Opening Day in a way, after the actual had been delayed for me by weather. The new access won’t be turning me into a beatwriter, but there are going to be more opportunities to learn, even from such an unlikely source as Dusty Baker, sitting at his desk spitting seeds.

One of the things that having Kevin Goldstein around does is to make me a little lazy. I don’t have to follow prospects as closely, because I know that he’ll know. I follow the major ones, and the ones that catch my interest. Nick Adenhart caught my interest a few years ago with his interesting injury story. Drafted by the Angels after he’d had Tommy John surgery, I often wondered if the gamble would pay off, and if it did, even if some crazy parents ended up thinking he’d found a shortcut to the majors. Adenhart got healthy and made it to the major leagues, the ultimate goal of any draft pick. I followed his progress, but I won’t pretend to know if he’d have been good, if he would have pitched for years, or why there’s any reason this happened. Robert Frost said that all he knew was that life goes on, but when it stops as quickly as it did for Adenhart, his agent Henry Pierson, and another in that car, we also learn that life stops for some. There’s no reason, no good thing to say, no way to make sense of it. All I can hope is that Adenhart was basking in the glow of his performance, still full in the knowledge that his dream had come true, or at least one of them. He may not have gone out with a win, but with all of the great things that have been said about the young pitcher, he does go out a winner.

Brandon Webb (5 DXL)

Ken Rosenthal added an important detail to the Webb story. Just a day after “normal soreness,” the Diamondbacks‘ ace continued to have that same soreness, forcing the team to juggle the rotation, skipping his turn to make sure that this stays normal. However, Rosenthal’s story that a contract extension for Webb was nixed by an insurer does add an element of intrigue. It’s important to understand that most contracts, even the large ones, are not insured. Moreover, Webb saw Dr. James Andrews of his own volition over the winter, in order to clear his own mind and to protect his interests if he was not going to be a long-term D’back. Andrews reportedly found nothing abnormal, but suggested a shoulder strengthening program. Andrews and Snakes’ ATC Ken Crenshaw have a great relationship, with Crenshaw a regular and popular presenter at ASMI’s conference, so this shouldn’t be an issue. In context, the insurance part of this story doesn’t bother me. The soreness that’s costing him a start probably isn’t much either, but if the team can’t get ahead of this in a week, then I’ll start to really worry.

Max Scherzer (10 DXL)

Rehab assignments are always fun, and I can’t wait for the day when has as many games on as their big brother. Scherzer headed to High-A Lake Elsinore for his first and likely only rehab assignment, pitching for the newly named Visalia Rawhide. (Ick.) Scherzer was not ick, blowing away the kids with a fastball that touched 98 and showed lots of movement. One observer said that there was so much movement that the umpire was fooled a few times, which could explain the four walks. He hit his pitch limit before he could qualify for the win, but the outing was a success. The D’backs will wait and see if he has any post-game soreness, but it looks as if Scherzer will make his big-league season debut next Tuesday against the Cardinals.

Mark Buehrle (0 DXL)

The White Sox want Buehrle to “change his off-season routine,” says the Chicago Tribune. Buehrle’s reluctance to change what has always worked for him is understandable, and with almost any other team, I’d agree. The White Sox, however, have Herm Schneider. The point Ozzie Guillen made is that, with age and workload, things need to change for Buehrle, or for any pitcher. Since he’s been complaining about soreness after spring training but still pitched well, it’s difficult to say why this came up. The key point here is that Buehrle does have some issues that bear watching, and that the team is concerned enough about his future that they’re already talking about it just a week into this season. Buehrle is usually the last Sox pitcher we need to worry about, but I have a feeling that might change.

Mike Redmond (3 DXL)
Joe Mauer (30 DXL)

So the Twins paired up two items of good news on Thursday, finding out that Redmond won’t miss time and that Joe Mauer is on track. Redmond’s groin responded to intense treatment over the last few days, so he won’t need to go on the DL. It’s still unclear when he’ll be back, but Jose Morales has held up well enough. Mauer’s timetable is “nonpublic” according to the Twins, but it’s not very hard to figure out. He’ll continue to hit, progress to running, and then move into extended spring training games. Each stage will take between three and five days. Mauer will then have a couple of rehab games before his return. In all, it should be within the next fifteen to twenty-five days, with the midpoint putting him back right around May 1. That’s about right. There’s always the worry about a setback with any kind of lower back issue, especially one as squirrelly as his SI joint pain has been.

Quick Cuts:
B.J. Upton will rejoin the Rays on Monday. … Ichiro Suzuki went 7-for-10 in his first game action since his ulcer was discovered. It’s fun seeing the lines in extended spring training, since you can say things like “Ichiro is leading off every inning!” … It’s just one start, but with his spring work, you have to feel good about Chris Carpenter so far. … I hope Chris Jakubauskas never gets hurt, and that’s the only time I have to type his name. … Rich Hill is about a week away from heading to extended spring training for the Orioles; he could be back in early May if all goes well. … How long until someone suggests that steroids are back? Great numbers from David Pinto via Twitter. … Kevin Kouzmanoff is dealing with a sore hamstring that might cost him a couple of games over the next week as the Pads’ staff tries to get ahead of it.

Sit in with Will in Dusty Baker’s office in the bowels of the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati by tuning into the latest podcast by Baseball Prospectus Radio.

Click to download mp3