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04-03-2008, 04:58 PM
Five key questions for the new season

By C.L. Brown cbrown@courier-journal.comThe Courier-Journal April 3, 2008

What is the Bats' biggest strength?

The Cincinnati Reds put a premium on acquiring veterans in the offseason, and it is reflected on the Louisville Bats' roster. Players who didn't quite make the Reds out of spring training should benefit the Bats early.

"Hopefully, we're going to win a lot of games, because we have the talent," said 35-year-old infielder Jolbert Cabrera, an 18-year veteran.

Infielder Andy Phillips was on the New York Yankees' 2006 opening-day roster and spent about half of last season with the Bronx Bombers. He's part of an infield that will be the heart of the team.

"Our minor league infield might have as much service time as the major league infield," said infielder Andy Green, a University of Kentucky graduate who played three seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks. "We've all been in the major leagues. It's a unique experience being a minor league team with this much major league experience."

Jerry Gil, who played alongside Green with Arizona in 2004, can play infield or outfield.

Who's in the starting rotation?

Homer Bailey is the probable starter for today's season opener at Syracuse. He'll be followed by Matt Maloney, Tom Shearn, Adam Pettyjohn and Justin Lehr. All but the 24-year-old Maloney have pitched in the majors.

Bailey could be back to the big show soon, provided he reduces his walks and proves he has command of his pitches.

Pettyjohn, who signed a minor league contract with the Reds in December, was the Pacific Coast League's co-Pitcher of the Year last season after going 12-4 with a 3.87 ERA at Triple-A Nashville. He and Maloney are lefties.

Lehr has had big league stints with Oakland and Milwaukee. He spent last season with the Mariners' Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma, going 7-1 with a 3.99 ERA. The free-agent signee started last year's Triple-A All-Star Game.

Shearn has spent the better part of the past four seasons in Louisville, going 7-10 last year. He made his major league debut in Cincinnati last August and posted a 3-0 mark in six starts for the Reds.

How good is this outfield?

The Bats are youngest in the outfield, where Drew T. Anderson is the old man at 26. Jay Bruce and Chris Dickerson have outstanding arms and can help curb the number of extra-base hits with their fielding.

They should do even more damage at the plate. Bruce hit .305 with 11 homers in 50 games with the Bats last season. Dickerson hit .260 with 13 homers, although he has to cut down on his 131 strikeouts, which ranked second on the team.

What other Reds' prospects

may stop in Louisville?

Pitcher Ramon Ramirez is on the Reds' 40-man roster, although he will start the season at Double-A Chattanooga. The 25-year-old native of Venezuela had a combined minor league record of 11-3 with a 3.70 ERA, including a 1-0 mark in five starts with the Bats.

Catcher Craig Tatum, who is also on the 40-man roster, and pitcher Josh Roenicke also could find themselves promoted from Chattanooga.

Outfielder Drew Stubbs and shortstop Chris Valaika got a few appearances in major league spring training, although both will start the season at Class A Sarasota.

What's new in the International League?

Say goodbye to the Ottawa Lynx, which had been the last Canadian franchise remaining in the International League. The Bats will now have to deal with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. (Gobblers and Wood Chucks were among the other names they considered.) Based in Allentown, Pa., the team is affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The IL schedule has some changes as well. Louisville will face its West Division rivals more often this season, playing Indianapolis 22 times and Toledo and Columbus 21 times each.

That means the Bats no longer will play 12 games against teams from the South Division (Charlotte, Durham, Richmond and Norfolk). They'll play each North and South Division team eight times -- a four-game series home and away.

C.L. Brown can be reached at (502) 582-4044.