Saturday, March 18, 2006
'Shack' just wants the ball
Reliever focuses on his own pitching, not on that of others
BY JOHN FAY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
DUNEDIN, Fla. - Brian Shackelford had to be thinking he was sitting pretty after last season.
Shackelford, a 29-year-old left-hander, pitched well for the Reds after his call-up June 26, going 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA. His numbers across the board were good: 21 hits, 17 strikeouts and nine walks in 291/3 innings.
But Shackelford's job security took a hit when the Reds signed veteran lefty Chris Hammond.
Shackelford is one of the most happy-go-lucky guys in the Reds' clubhouse, so he's hardly complaining about his lot in life.
"You can't look at it like that," he said. "I don't get caught up in who's here and who's not."
Shackelford has had a good spring, allowing one run on five hits over six innings, walking one and striking out three. He also has impressed Reds manager Jerry Narron with his willingness to take the ball in any situation.
"He did a good job for us," Narron said. "The thing you worried about with Shack was, could you trust him to throw enough strikes? The worst thing for a guy who is going to face one batter is to come in and walk him.
"He definitely came in and threw strikes."
Shackelford's success in the majors was somewhat surprising - even to him. He was 1-6 with a 5.23 ERA at Triple-A Louisville when he got the call-up.
"When I first got up there, I was in a mop-up role to eat up innings," Shackelford said. "But after I got comfortable and had some success, they trusted me more with the lefty specialist role."
Shackelford made his big-league debut at age 28, but there's a reason for that. He signed as an outfielder and didn't become a pitcher full time until 2003.
The Reds got Shackelford from the Kansas City Royals in a March 2003 trade. He went 8-1 with a 3.58 ERA for Louisville in 2004, but he wasn't given much of a shot to make the Reds because they had signed left-hander Kent Mercker in the offseason.
Shackelford brings the gamer attitude of a position player to pitching.
"Shack wants the ball," Narron said. "That's what you want to see."
Said Shackelford: "I've always been that way. When I was a hitter, I wanted to be up there with the game on the line."
Last year was an educational process for Shackelford and the Reds' other less-experienced relievers. Shackelford, Todd Coffey, Matt Belisle and Jason Standridge were pitching in a big-league bullpen for the first time.
Having Mercker and David Weathers around helped them.
"First of all, they know the hitters," Shackelford said. "They're always three innings ahead, so they tell you what to expect. They really helped us.
"I was talking to young guys with other clubs who didn't have veteran guys. It really makes a difference."
Adding Hammond to that mix could cost Shackelford a big-league job. But he's not preoccupied with that.
"All I do is go out and pitch," Shackelford said. "Competition is good. I don't worry about what's not in my control."