02/27/2006 9:20 PM ET
Notes: Balfour on road to recovery
Tommy John surgery veteran could pitch in Minors in May
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com

SARASOTA -- Every player in Reds camp is working toward a singular goal of being with the big-league team and ready for Opening Day on April 3.
Except one.

Pitcher Grant Balfour is working from a different timetable. Don't expect to see him at Great American Ball Park until some time this summer.

Balfour, recovering from Tommy John surgery on his elbow and a shoulder operation that repaired a torn labrum and rotator cuff, has only just begun a light throwing program.

"It's nothing crazy, just something with a little bit on it, not too hard at all," said Balfour, who previously pitched for the Twins until this spring. "Some days it feels pretty good and some days it's stiffer."

The right-hander is playing catch at distances of 75 feet, making 50 throws per session.

Cincinnati knew what it was getting into when it signed Balfour to a one-year Major League contract in January. Team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tim Kremchek performed both of the pitcher's operations and provided a positive medical outlook. The financial risk is minimal since Balfour will make $340,000 this season.

Although Balfour took up a spot this spring, he won't be counted towards the 40-man roster once he is placed on the 60-day disabled list after camp. When the team goes north, he will remain in Sarasota for extended Spring Training.

"I'd rather be playing and getting ready for the start of the season from scratch," Balfour said. "I know the way it is. My mind is set on getting ready as quickly as I can. I just want to make sure that when I'm ready, I'm fully ready to go and everything is good. You want to make sure it's right."

If all goes well, Balfour could begin throwing off a mound by the end of March and pitching in Minor League games by some time in May.

Assuming Balfour returns to his previous form, the Reds would get someone that throws a 95-97 mph fastball with good movement. With a 5-1 record and 4.63 ERA in 55 games with Minnesota from 2001-04, there were times the pitcher was dominant. In the 2004 playoffs, he neutralized a powerful Yankees lineup with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless late-inning relief.

But there were also times that Balfour was puzzling and inconsistent at throwing strikes. The Twins coaching staff became frustrated by complaints of arm soreness and a perceived reluctance to throw every day. Minnesota did not offer the pitcher a contract this winter, but invited him to camp as a non-roster player with a Minor League deal. He turned it down once Cincinnati called.

Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky, who was an assistant GM in Minnesota until a couple of weeks ago, said he was not aware of any issues Balfour had with the Twins.

"All I'm concerned about now is Grant getting healthy," Krivsky said. "I'm not concerned about anything in the past. He's got quality stuff and a quality arm. He's well conditioned. He takes care of himself. The only thing I'm thinking about is getting him healthy and helping the Reds whenever it's the appropriate time. Hopefully, the next Major League success he has is with us."

No Astacio: After the Reds made attempts to sign free agent Pedro Astacio, the pitcher signed a one-year deal with the Nationals on Monday. The Reds had decided earlier in the afternoon they had pulled out of the bidding.

"We were pursuing him hard and for a long time," Krivsky said. "There comes a point when it just can't go any further. We reached that point."

Krivsky would not reveal the nature of Cincinnati's contract offer to the right-handed pitcher. Astacio received an incentive-laden Major League contract from Washington that will reportedly pay him a base salary of $700,000, with a $500,000 bonus if he makes the team out of Spring Training.

"It's one of those things," Krivsky said. "I'm comfortable with the guys we have in camp. We'll go with what we have for right now."

The Reds were seeking an extra starter for depth in case rehabilitating starter Paul Wilson wasn't ready to start the season. Michael Gosling and Justin Germano will be in the mix to take the fifth spot if Wilson has a setback.

Family first: Center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. is scheduled to play in Wednesday's intrasquad game before leaving the Reds on Thursday to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic.

It will be a quick trip, though. Griffey wants to return home to Orlando on Saturday in time to see his 10-year-old daughter, Taryn, play in a youth softball game. After the game, he would return to Arizona to play in the tournament.

"I may fly home because that is my baby," Griffey said. "This is her first ever softball game."

O'Brien finds job? Former Reds GM Dan O'Brien could soon land a job in Milwaukee as a consultant to Brewers GM Doug Melvin. O'Brien has been in on meetings with Brewers scouts this week at the team's complex in Arizona.

Days after assuming control of the team, new Reds chief executive officer Bob Castellini dismissed O'Brien on Jan. 23. If O'Brien accepts a position with Milwaukee, he would work out of his home and focus on professional scouting.

Coming up: The Reds will play against Kia, a Korean professional team, in the first exhibition game of the spring Tuesday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Dave Williams will start for Cincinnati. Former big league pitcher Seth Greisinger is scheduled to pitch for Kia.

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