Germano in line for job
Reds' rotation has openings
By Marc Lancaster / Post staff reporter
SARASOTA, Fla. - Some look at the Reds' track record of developing starting pitchers, or the homer-friendly confines of Great American Ball Park, and wonder why anyone would want to pitch for Cincinnati.
To the unproven commodities in the Reds' spring training clubhouse, the response to that line of thinking is simple and straightforward. All the Reds' mound meltdowns in recent years represent to them is an opportunity, one they're all too pleased to take.
Witness Justin Germano. A native Southern Californian, he was thrilled to be drafted by the San Diego Padres and made his major league debut a few months before his 22nd birthday. It was a chance not many people in his position get; if only he'd been able to do some more with it.
Germano made seven appearances for the Padres, five of them starts, during the 2004 season. He posted an 8.86 ERA, and the precision control that had marked his ascent through the minors deserted him as he walked 14 and struck out 16 in 21 1/3 innings.
He's still waiting to make it back to the big leagues.
The Padres weren't giving up on Germano when they traded him and Travis Chick to the Reds for Joe Randa last July. It was more a case of supply and demand. The Padres had pitching prospects to trade, and they did exactly that to get a veteran bat they needed for the playoff run.
So far, the deal appears to have worked for both teams. San Diego won its division and the Reds have themselves a legitimate candidate to crack the starting rotation in 2006. If Germano was still in San Diego, there's no way he'd be in that position this spring, and he knows it.
"San Diego had a logjam of pitching and top prospects, so it was tough just to get up there and stay," Germano said Wednesday. "I definitely see some opportunity here."
His track record makes it easy to see why the Reds think so highly of him after only a month or so worth of work in their organization. It isn't so much the 3-2 record and 4.01 ERA Germano compiled in eight starts for Louisville last summer that impressed the front office; it's the way Germano goes about his work.
"Just watching him out there throwing, it looks like he has a real good idea," said manager Jerry Narron. "It looks like he's going to be a guy that can throw strikes."
Germano agrees that detail work in the strike zone is his trademark, and his statistics back it up. In 871 1/3 minor league innings, Germano has walked only 167 batters while striking out 711.
Of course, unless you're Greg Maddux, when you're around the strike zone that much, you're going to get hit. Germano has given up 904 of them in his minor league career, and said continuing to refine his command is a high priority.
"Sometimes, it actually does hurt me, sometimes I throw a little bit too good a strike and get hit around a little bit," he said. "I think the biggest thing is just working on my fastball location, keeping the ball down."
If he can show some progress on that front in camp, he'll have a chance to make the Reds' rotation right out of the gate. With Paul Wilson's health up in the air and the Reds preparing Matt Belisle to return to the long relief role he held last year, Germano enters spring training as one of the top contenders to fill out the starting staff.
Narron said the 23-year-old will get a chance to prove himself once Grapefruit League play begins.
"It's going to be interesting," Narron said. "The way our roster is right now, he's going to have a chance to pitch this spring."
In joining such a pitching-poor organization, Germano immediately became a valuable commodity for the Reds. Because he has options remaining, Germano will be back in Louisville and starting every fifth day if he doesn't break camp with the Reds.
Whatever happens over the next month, Germano is well positioned to get at least a shot in the majors this year. It's all but impossible to navigate a 162-game season with a five-man rotation intact, and barring a complete collapse, Germano will get a hard look for any opening that might occur.
"Whether I make it out of spring or make it during the season, I just want to get there," he said, acknowledging that a chance to start in the majors is a considerable incentive not only for spring training but the minor league season, if it comes to that.
"It definitely is," he said. "Any chance I can to get up there, it just makes me work that much harder."