2/27/2006 10:05 PM
Great American 'launching pad' leaves Reds' pitchers aiming low
By Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY
SARASOTA, Fla. — Pity Josh Hancock. Not only did the Cincinnati Reds believe he had a weight problem, but he was dumped from what was the worst pitching staff in the National League last season.
His one consolation: He won't have to pitch at Great American Ball Park on a regular basis anymore.
The Cincinnati Reds' stadium yielded the most home runs in baseball last season at 246, or 13 more than the Texas Rangers' Ameriquest Field, where the designated hitter is in effect.
Some of the credit goes to the Cincinnati hitters, who led the NL in homers with 222, and much of the blame belongs to the only pitching staff in the majors to allow more than 200 long balls (219).
Part of the reason is also the Great American (Gopher) Ball Park.
"Our ballpark is obviously a launching pad," catcher Jason LaRue says. "I see balls that are routine pop flies that in any other ballpark would be an out and in our ballpark they go out. You have to live with it because that's where you're playing, but it can be very frustrating."
The stadium's dimensions aren't puny — 328 feet down the left-field line, 379 to the left-center power alley, 404 to dead center, 370 to right-center and 325 down the right-field line — but the ball carries well. Left-hander Eric Milton says he can tell by the way pitchers crank balls out of the park during batting practice.
So Reds pitchers have to concentrate on keeping the ball down even more than usual, which they didn't do frequently enough last season, anywhere. The staff's NL-worst ERA of 5.15 was evenly split, 5.14 at home and 5.16 on the road. And of the 219 homers the Reds allowed, 99 came away from the banks of the Ohio River.
"I've tried a sinker many times, and it hasn't been one of my best pitches," says Milton, who endured the worst season of his career with an 8-15 record, a 6.47 ERA and 40 homers allowed. "I'm trying to mix up my pitches and keep the ball down."
Reds manager Jerry Narron, in his first full season after taking over for the fired Dave Miley last June, wants his players to hold themselves accountable. When Hancock, a non-roster invitee, showed up to camp 17 pounds over his assigned weight, he was released.
So Narron doesn't buy into the notion that at a homer-friendly park pitchers should focus mostly on giving their team innings and a chance to win without regard for their ERAs.
"I don't care what park they're pitching in, I expect them to get guys out," Narron says. "I think if you lower your expectations, you're going to have guys happy to go out there and give up some runs."
Cincinnati's top two starters last season, Aaron Harang (11-13, 3.83 ERA) and lefty Brandon Claussen (10-11, 4.21 ERA), finished with sub-.500 records. They're 27 and 26, respectively, and have a chance to get better.
The Reds only added one starter to the rotation, picking up left-hander Dave Williams (10-11, 4.41 ERA) in the Sean Casey trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, so any major improvement might have to come from Milton and Paul Wilson having bounce-back seasons. Wilson had rotator cuff surgery last June and was limited to nine starts.
Wilson's status for the beginning of the season remains uncertain, as does the role of closer on a bullpen that had a 4.75 ERA last season. One thing that's clear, Wilson says, is Reds pitchers can't let their home stadium affect their mind-set.
"I try not to think of it as a hitters ballpark, even though it is," Wilson says. "That's not going to help my psyche. It's like (having) strike one against you if you've got that kind of attitude."
http://www.usatoday.com/sports/baseb...-preview_x.htmInside the Reds
Last season: 73-89, fifth in NL Central.
In: LHP Chris Hammond, LHP Dave Williams, 2B Tony Womack.
Out: 1B Sean Casey, RHP Ramon Ortiz.
Projected lineup: C Jason LaRue, 1B Adam Dunn, 2B Womack, 3B Rich Aurilia, SS Felipe Lopez, LF Wily Mo Pena, CF Ken Griffey Jr., RF Austin Kearns.
Projected rotation: 1, RHP Aaron Harang. 2, LHP Brandon Claussen. 3, LHP Eric Milton. 4, LHP Dave Williams. 5, RHP Paul Wilson.
Projected closer: Todd Coffey.
Roster question: Who will close? David Weathers led the club with 15 saves last season but is better suited for a setup role. The Reds would like to see Coffey, whose fastball can climb into the low- to-mid-90s, claim the job.
Regarding the bolded portion... IIRC, there were some games that Aaron should have won, instead either the bullpen or the offense let him down. Anyway, I'm of the opinion that he's a better pitcher than what his record indicates.
Can't remember with Claussen, though there may have been a couple.