Bullpen remains a riddle
BY JOHN ERARDI | JERARDI@ENQUIRER.COM
CLEARWATER, Fla. - Confusion reigns. Reds manager Dusty Baker doesn't name names, but in his words you can see what's going round and round in his mind when its comes to the makeup of Monday's bullpen.
"We have to make some decisions on some things - in a lot of areas," Baker said. "It's not my money, but you hope that (money) is not a determining factor. In baseball, in any business, a team wants to stay under budget. We have a meeting (Tuesday) night when we get back. The truck leaves (today) for Cincinnati.
"I hate to take it down to the wire like this - it's really unfair to the players and their families - but it's a situation that we're in because of competition or because certain guys haven't really stepped it up ahead of the other guys."
Right now, it's impossible to handicap the last few spots in the bullpen. One must consider Mike Stanton's $3 million contract, Kent Mercker's impact on the bullpen as a whole, the fact that the young guys have options and can be called up later.
Not to mention, there is always this question, the one for which a TV show was named:
Who Do You Trust?
Inconsistent outings by various guys this spring haven't clearly identified those whose numbers deserve to be chosen when the bell rings for Opening Day.
It leads to a lot of talk, projection, speculation and exactly the condition the Reds brass are experiencing right now:
Reds fans can only hope the brass has a better picture of what's going on than the fans do.
A bulllpen works in near anonymity in spring training, and in a glaring spotlight once the season begins.
Nobody knows better the stomach-flipping nature of a bad bullpen than do Reds fans. In Cincinnati, the eighth inning is where suspenseful games go to die.
It is against this backdrop that Baker runs out the relievers, watches them - and the hitters they face - like a hawk, and tries to come to a decision on who to bring north.
So much attention has been paid to the Reds' starting rotation. And rightly so, with the emergence of Johnny Cueto and the man who pitched here Tuesday afternoon for the Reds (Edinson Volquez) and some tantalizing questions about whether Homer Bailey can learn more in the minors or the majors right now.
Maybe it's good the bullpen has toiled far under the radar this spring. Maybe not. Everybody's assuming the bullpen will be better this year because ... well, how can it not be?
But Jared Burton hasn't had a great spring. And Jeremy Affeldt's been pitching batting practice.
But in a magical season for the Colorado Rockies last year, Affeldt was a key player. Don't you want a guy like that working for you?
Everybody likes Mercker - how can you not? - but do you take him north instead of Bill Bray, who had yet another terrific outing Tuesday afternoon?
And Stanton has pitched OK this spring, but, overall, his body of his work last season still has Reds fans waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
If fans are doing that, what do you think Baker's doing?
At least he gets paid big bucks for his worries. He and the rest of the Reds braintrust will earn their pay in the next few days.
And at least Baker's stomach got a good settling Tuesday when - following another good outing by starter Volquez - all the relievers (Bray, David Weathers, Francisco Cordero and Todd Coffey) pitched well. (Pay no attention to Cordero's line; poor fielding did him in. So bad that it's not worth reciting.)
Burton's a microcosm.
His spring, Baker said, is more a result of "weird things happening."
"Things like we don't make a play or something freaky happens," Baker said. "But I like what he's bringing to the table. He certainly has the stuff."
The ground ball Burton induced with the bases loaded Monday night was big.
"He did something that you're looking for a guy like him to do," Baker said. "You're looking for a guy who comes in and gets that double play. Man, that's big."
Affeldt, too, is a microcosm.
When he went from "candidate for the rotation" to "bullpen," he went from center stage to the B-room faster than Engelbert Humperdinck.
But just wait until the season starts and games are on the line. Reds fans will know Affeldt's name like he's Sinatra at the Sands.
Is Baker concerned about Affeldt?
"A bit concerned, just because he's been giving it up," Baker said. "But you have to go on his track record, too. He's almost throwing too many strikes sometimes, whereas before every once in awhile he'd get in that rut of not throwing enough strikes.
"We want to get him to the point of just throwing quality strikes and being comfortable and confident. He wears it all over his face."
He's not the only one.