LIMA — Reds Hall of Famer Joe Morgan walked on stage and the crowd’s ovation nearly shook the Lima Mall.
Too bad that the Big Red Machine second baseman from the 1970s is a little too old to suit up.
The Reds caravan made its stop in Lima on Friday night and most of the fans pointed questions at Cincinnati manager Bryan Price.
Most wanted to know how the Reds are working on improving over last year’s fourth-place 76-86 finish.
Joining Price and Morgan on the north tour of the caravan stop were Reds owner, president and CEO Bob Castellini, director of player development Jeff Graupe, All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco, minor league shortstop Alex Blandino, broadcasters Jim Day and Jeff Piecoro and mascot Mr. Red.
The keys to a turnaround season center on good health and stability in starting rotation, which lost Mat Latos (traded to the Marlins) and Alfredo Simon (traded to the Tigers) in December.
Johnny Cueto is a Cy Young Award candidate at the top of the rotation. He went 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA last year. Cueto struck out 242 in 243 innings.
Next up is Mike Leake (11-13, 3.70), who made 33 starts last year.
After that, the Reds are looking for some special healing lotion they can pass around.
Homer Bailey (9-5, 3.71) was limited to 23 starts and underwent surgery on Sept. 6 for a torn tendon in his right elbow.
“Homer had the surgery and we’re confident he’ll come to spring training being very close to take the mound,” Price said. “Then, we’ll see if we can get him ready by Opening Day. Homer has started to throw and I spoke to him the other day and he said he feels great. But after surgery, there is a definite protocol. But right now there haven’t been any setbacks.”
Left-hander Tony Cingrani (2-8, 4.55) was demoted to AAA Louisville on June 20, but never pitched there. Instead, he spent the rest of the season on the disabled list with a sore left shoulder.
“Tony is going to be full go,” Price said. “He spent the second half of last season doing rehab and getting stronger and was on a throwing program. We’re confident he’ll be ready to go.”
After that, the Reds could start right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, who came over from the Marlins in the Latos deal.
There’s also Cuban 24-year-old free agent signee Raisel Iglesias, David Holmberg, Dylan Axelrod and Jason Marquis, who was signed to a minor league deal.
“We have to have consistency in the rotation,” Price said. “And we’re going to need the bullpen to bounce back.”
The bullpen could get a lift from lefty Sean Marshall, who is expected to be recovered from arthroscopic shoulder surgery he had on June 24.
“A healthy Sean Marshall would be a huge boost in the arm for us,” Price said.
Another health concern last year centered on first baseman Joey Votto’s ailing quad muscle, which limited him to 62 games and none after July 5.
“Joey spent a good portion of his offseason doing rehab, first and baseball activity, second,” Price said. “I’ll give him as much as he can handle in spring training, without overusing him. But I think by the time we get to early April, he should be right back in a good groove and ready to go.”
Center fielder Billy Hamilton (.250) stole 56 bases as a rookie last year, but was caught 23 times.
“If I had one thing to say to him, it would be, concentration at first base,” Morgan said of Hamilton. “I think his concentration needs to be a little stronger at first base so he picks the right pitches. But were there about five or six games last year, almost in a row, that he won by himself. … He was really very valuable to us last year, especially defensively. I don’t know why he didn’t win a Gold Glove, he was that good.”