Claussen sees glass half-full
He's likely Reds' No. 2 starter
By Marc Lancaster / Post staff reporter
SARASOTA, Fla. - Brandon Claussen takes his share of well-intentioned grief in the Reds' clubhouse for his goody-goody persona, but you can't say there's anything disingenuous about it.
The left-hander is relentlessly positive, and his self-deprecating humor has a way of defusing his tougher days at the office. After a start last July in which he tied a club record by allowing five home runs to the Chicago Cubs, Claussen remarked that "it was like I was throwing watermelons up there and they were Gallagher."
It's all good, clean fun, but that only serves to hide his competitive edge. Broach the subject of the Reds' collective pitching effort last year, when the staff ranked last in the National League in ERA, and Claussen flips it around.
"It depends on how you look at it," he said. "There's a negative side of things and there's a positive. If you want to fret on the negative, you're almost setting yourself up for rejection later on. I kind of look at it like, OK, we were the worst, and when you're at the bottom, the only way to go is up. It's not going to get any worse."
That's the sweetness and light of it. Nudge Claussen a little bit further and he acknowledges how tantalizing the Reds' stat sheet must appear to opponents. Still, he said, he and his colleagues shouldn't allow any of that to bother them.
"I definitely think we're going to be underestimated, there's no doubt in my mind," said Claussen. "If I was playing an opponent like us, I would assume we were going to walk all over them. I would. But I really think it's all about an attitude. I try and take a positive attitude coming to the field every day, if I'm throwing in the bullpen, if I'm shagging. I'd rather look at things positively than negatively."
That's a longstanding approach for the 26-year-old, but the foundation is a bit more solid as he enters 2006. This time a year ago, Claussen was one of a handful of players grappling for the final spot in the starting rotation.
"He scuffled, too," Reds manager Jerry Narron recalled.
Claussen certainly didn't wrest the job away from anyone else. It almost fell to him by default, as a pitcher with obvious potential and no minor league options remaining. When the regular season began, Claussen spent the first two weeks on the bench, throwing occasionally in the bullpen. He finally made his season debut April 19, becoming the last major league player on an Opening Day roster to see action.
Once Claussen finally joined the fight, it didn't take him long to get up to speed. And as the higher-priced veterans all around him - Paul Wilson, Eric Milton and Ramon Ortiz - collectively imploded, the stability Claussen provided became increasingly valuable. For the most part, he (and Aaron Harang) kept the team in the game.
That was more than could be said most nights of the week early last season, and it made a difference for Claussen.
"As you go out there and have a little bit of success, that's what breeds confidence," he said. "I just really try not to do too much, I try and keep the game nice and easy. As I went on last year I got more and more confident. I was feeding off the guys that were playing behind me, I could feel that they were confident in me. The coaching staff definitely was."
Narron vouched for that. Unbidden, he brought up what he considered a key at-bat in Claussen's development last season. It came in a game against the Brewers on Sept. 5. Former Milwaukee first baseman Lyle Overbay entered the game 9-for-13 with four home runs in his career against Claussen, but the young left-hander struck him out with the go-ahead run on second base in the seventh inning of a tie game.
"I saw the confidence," said Narron. "I saw him get Lyle Overbay out when he needed to one day in about the seventh inning. He needed the experience, he needed some positive experience, and he got that."
Claussen ended up 10-11 with a 4.21 ERA in 29 starts last year, firmly establishing himself as a member of the Reds' rotation. He could very well be the team's No. 2 starter to open the season, behind Harang, after the consistency he displayed in 2005.
It's been a long road for Claussen, who was drafted in the 34th round eight years ago by the Yankees. But if he hadn't taken the route he has, maybe his outlook would have changed, maybe he might not be here at all.
"I think it's important for everyone to have a vision of where they want to be, but I don't make that my main focus," Claussen said. "I don't want to miss the journey. The journey's half the fun anyway."
No one, Claussen included, drew any sort of enjoyment from the Reds losing 89 games last season. But in Claussen's world view, that experience will only make the next step in his journey more satisfying.
"I would love to be on a team that really turned this thing around, not only for the team but for the city of Cincinnati," he said. "I just think it makes the victory that much sweeter when you've been on the losing end of the battle every once in a while. I just wouldn't want to go somewhere, walk in, win and leave."