01/09/2006 8:00 AM ET
Mailbag: Will Milton Ruhle the mound?
Beat writer Mark Sheldon answers Reds fans' questions
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
Welcome to the first Reds mailbag of 2006. I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays.
Spring Training is around the corner. Pitchers and catchers report to camp at Sarasota on Feb. 16. There are, no doubt, plenty of questions to keep us busy until then, so let's get to them.
Will the real Eric Milton please stand up? Hi, Mark. Knowing the Twins as well as you do, what happened to Eric Milton?
-- Greg J., Mason, Ohio
Unfortunately -- or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it -- I did not see Milton pitch last season with the exception of an occasional TV highlight. But when he signed his lucrative free agent contract with Cincinnati last winter, I do recall thinking a rocky marriage was imminent with a fly-ball pitcher doing much of his work at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
When I saw him in Minnesota, Milton was probably the most intense competitor around. Back then, he was throwing mid-90s fastballs and was never afraid to be aggressive with hitters in the strike zone. Yes, he was prone to deep hits and the long ball, but he seemed to get those out of the way early. Then, he usually settled in and could often be counted on to work deep into a game, giving his team every chance to win.
From what I understand, Milton was throwing closer to 91-93 mph in 2005 and was still unafraid to challenge hitters. Obviously, he didn't fare too well, but he apparently benefited from working with Vern Ruhle once he became the pitching coach, and the organization feels a full year with Ruhle will help Milton even more.
The rotation of Brandon Claussen, Aaron Harang, Paul Wilson, Dave Williams and Milton, with Luke Hudson and Josh Hancock in long relief, Todd Coffey and Brian Wagner as setup men and Kent Mercker and David Weathers as closers, seems very good. The Reds batters and fielders have proven themselves. I believe a frontline closer is not needed. The Reds should stand pat. Do you agree?
-- Garry C., Taylor Mill, Ky.
No, I disagree with that viewpoint. I'm not a fan of the closer by committee or splitting the job up. I just believe it's usually better to have someone designated for that role. It's a unique, high-pressure role, and most managers seem to feel more comfortable when they can look to one man that can shut the door in tense moments like the ninth inning. Every playoff team from last season had a designated closer, even though a couple of clubs saw those closers either suffer injuries or struggle at some point in the season.
While both veterans performed well in the split role last year, David Weathers and Kent Mercker are better suited to being setup men. They each have established track records in that role. Neither throws particularly hard, nor do they notch a lot of strikeouts.
But here's the issue: There don't appear to be many established closers out there. Tampa Bay's Danys Baez is one of the few on the trading block, and the rumor mill has him headed to the Mets soon. For now, Cincinnati is prepared to let Weathers and Mercker split the role again. Hard-throwing Todd Coffey could be worked into the ninth-inning role slowly and, if he can prove himself, could take over full-time. If so, Coffey could be the latest young closer to emerge like Bobby Jenks (White Sox) and Derrick Turnbow (Brewers) did last year.
Chris Hammond for $800,000 to the Reds, especially after a 5-1 record and 3.84 ERA in 55 games last season for the Padres and a strong history of success with the Braves. Great signing at a great price! Your thoughts?
-- George J., Cincinnati, Ohio
Although more improvements are needed in the bullpen (see previous question), this was a solid signing for Cincinnati. Hammond has been one of the more dependable situational lefty relievers in the game the past four seasons. He doesn't throw particularly hard, but he locates the ball well and gets outs. Nearing 40, he's a veteran who has seen it all and will join Weathers and Mercker in providing leadership and helping the younger pitchers on the staff.
Without significantly upgrading the starting rotation, it could be another replay of last season. What are the odds that the front office lands a No. 1 or even a No. 2 starter by Spring Training?
-- Brad W., Shelbyville, Ky.
The odds are not too strong right now, but you never know. The already-thin free agent market has been pretty much picked over. Jeff Weaver is the biggest name left, and GM Dan O'Brien told me last week he wasn't interested in signing him. It would likely take a trade to get someone, and I don't see too many top guys out there who appear to be on the block.