Outlook: Cueto was stellar in '12 with 19 wins

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- In the least surprising development of Spring Training, Reds manager Dusty Baker made official Friday what was already expected. Ace Johnny Cueto will be the club's Opening Day starter vs. the Angels on April 1.

"It's how we set it up," Baker said. "Johnny was my Opening Day starter anyway. He was my Opening Day starter last year."

In 33 starts last season, which was tied for the most in the National League, Cueto finished 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA. Over his career-high 217 innings, he walked 49 and struck out 170. He finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting.

After the regular season, Cueto suffered a strained oblique during Game 1 of the National League Division Series vs. the Giants. He has had no trouble this spring and is fully recovered. In five games this spring, he has a 7.02 ERA and was roughed up for five runs and five hits over 1 2/3 innings on Thursday vs. the A's. His next spring start is on Tuesday.

Baker also revealed that the Reds' rotation would be Cueto, followed by Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake.

Choo feeling optimistic about health of back

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Reds center fielder Shin-Soo Choo is close to returning to the lineup after he's been out a week with back spasms. And his status for being ready for Opening Day appears to be solid.

For several days now, Choo has been pain free.

"It's good," said Choo, who last played on March 15. "[Thursday], I did a full schedule of batting practice, shagging in the outfield, running. It was great, no problem. Today, I will do it again and if it feels real good, I think I will play [Saturday].

"In my career, I'm not hurt that much. The first time I felt it, I was worried about it. Twenty-four hours later, I felt great. It's not really a major injury. I feel a lot better now."

Reds manager Dusty Baker believed there was a good chance that Choo would play against the Rangers on Saturday.

"I have him penciled in," Baker said. "It depends on how he feels tonight after activity. I don't anticipate any setbacks."

In 11 games this spring, Choo is batting .400 (8-for-25). He fully expects to be in the lineup when the Reds open the regular season vs. the Angels on April 1.

"If I had this same feeling during the regular season, I could play," Choo said. "It's Spring Training and I still have a little more time. I don't want to make it worse. It's more important for the season. I want to play every day, 162 games."

Frazier making strides with bat and glove in spring

CLE@CIN: Frazier's two-run shot extends early lead

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After a slow start at the plate in Spring Training, Reds third baseman Todd Frazier has come on strong the past couple of weeks. In his past 10 games, Frazier is 9-for-27 (.333) with three home runs and 10 RBIs.

"We've got nine or 10 more games left, I'm just trying to square the ball up basically," Frazier said on Friday. "If you get a hit, you get a hit and if not, you don't. Dusty [Baker] always says when you get that first pitch, to go after it. Squaring balls up is a good sign because it means your bat head is coming through the zone level and you're getting that extension."

Frazier was 1-for-3 with an RBI single up the middle in the first inning vs. the Dodgers on Friday. On Thursday vs. Oakland, he hit a two-run homer.

"I just keep my aggressive nature but I understand that you don't need to swing at everything," Frazier said. "That's something I'm still learning about and taking some pitches. I know I hit the home run but basically I was just trying to get [the runner] in. I guess when something is good, more is better. In my second at-bat, I hit a one-hopper to shortstop, but I squared it up so I was pretty happy with that. We're not hitting lazy fly balls anymore."

Defensively, Frazier is also making progress. Like second baseman Brandon Phillips, he takes infield practice with a smaller glove to improve his handwork.

"I feel real good," Frazier said. "[Instructor] Miguel Cairo is letting me use his glove. I have to order one actually. I feel more handsy over there instead of feeling it with the glove. Defense is something I take pride in. Hopefully, one day, I can be at the level where I need to be. I think I am almost there."

Simon returns to camp needing to get in work

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Reds long reliever Alfredo Simon got to be part of the Dominican Republic's undefeated championship run in this year's World Baseball Classic. But it very well may cost him a roster spot in Cincinnati's bullpen.

Simon made only one three-inning appearance for the Dominicans during the tournament and allowed one run on three hits. Before departing Reds camp, he made two appearances with the last one coming on Feb. 28 when he gave up three runs and six hits vs. the D-backs. Simon needs to make up for some lost time and innings.

"He's only pitched once in the last 10-12 days," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We can't bump all of these guys for Alfredo to pitch. We want to get him innings. You can't force those innings because you'll end up hurting the guy. We're going to try and get him in some Minor League games."

"You can say he's basically starting over," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty added.

Simon, who has a guaranteed contract worth $890,000 for 2013, is out of Minor League options. But bullpen spots got even scarcer with Friday's news that Aroldis Chapman is returning to the bullpen as the closer. Plus, young reliever J.J. Hoover has come on strong all spring with 14 strikeouts to only one walk in his seven outings, making it tough to send him down. Jose Arredondo has also pitched well and is out of options.

"Most cases, the WBC doesn't hurt guys. In that part, I think it hurt his progress some by not pitching," Baker said of Simon.

Worth noting

• On Friday morning, the Reds re-assigned pitcher Armando Galarraga to the Minor League camp. Galarraga was 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in four games, including one start, with one walk and six strikeouts in eight innings.

In a Minor League game for Class A Bakersfield, Hoover pitched one inning and struck out two batters.