By Marc Lancaster
Post staff reporter
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Jerry Narron summed up the state of the Reds, past and present, in a single sentence Friday morning.
"We're begging for somebody to go out there and show they can pitch."
There wasn't much evidence of that in Thursday's Grapefruit League opener against Detroit, an 8-5 loss, nor in the split-squad game in Sarasota on Friday against the Tigers, a 17-10 drubbing. Hours after his plea, though, the Reds' manager finally saw a sliver of hope.
Left-hander Michael Gosling, who already seemed to be a slight favorite in the race for a rotation opening that may or may not exist, turned in three scoreless innings against the Minnesota Twins under Narron's watchful eye.
Gosling's performance Friday didn't win him a job, but it helped get his campaign off to a strong start.
"I was very happy with the way Gosling threw," said Narron. "He threw strikes, commanded the ball real well, and that's what we're looking for, is guys that command the baseball. He did a great job, changed speeds really well."
Facing a Twins lineup heavy on regulars - Luis Castillo, Torii Hunter and Rondell White among them - Gosling scattered three hits and struck out one, keeping Minnesota's hitters off-balance as he worked around the strike zone.
The 25-year-old admitted to getting away with a couple of mistakes he probably wouldn't have during the regular season, but it sounded like Friday's showing was a rough approximation of what he can do when he's on.
"I throw four pitches, but I'm the kind of guy who's got to throw all of them, I've got to be able to mix them in, and more than anything I've just got to have command," he said. "I don't have a good enough fastball or a good enough curveball - one pitch where I can say, OK, today I'm just going to rely on that. I've got to locate my pitches, that's the way I succeed."
It has been a while since Gosling was as successful as he'd like to be. The high points of his professional career thus far was his first season out of Stanford University. He went straight to Class AA El Paso in 2002, producing a 14-5 record and 3.13 ERA in 27 starts and vaulting up the Arizona Diamondbacks' list of prospects.
The next few years weren't remotely as productive, though. He said he pitched most of the 2003 season with pain in his shoulder ("which was stupid"), and that the surgery he had that fall to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff kept him from being effective in 2004.
Gosling broke camp with the Diamondbacks last spring, missing out of the fifth starter's spot but sticking as a long reliever. Before long, he was dispatched down the road to Class AAA Tucson so he could start regularly, but he spent the year bouncing back and forth down the highway connecting the two cities.
"I was on the I-10 shuttle there," he said. "I felt like I improved at the end of the year in AAA, but it was kind of tough going back and forth. Once you get a taste of the big leagues, it's not fun going back down."
Late in the season, Gosling said, he made some changes in both his mechanics and his attitude.
"That's what led me to be excited about coming into this year, is I felt like I actually had some tangible changes that I could carry over," he said.
Then came a completely unexpected phone call in early February from new Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes. Arizona needed a 40-man roster spot for a new acquisition and the front office had decided to designate Gos- ling for assignment. Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky, in his second full day on the job, snapped Gosling up off the waiver wire.
The quick change of scenery caught Gosling by surprise, but he said he was thankful to land with the Reds.
"I just kind of got the feeling that the Diamondbacks thought they'd seen all I had to offer, but I feel like I've got a lot more to offer," he said. "I feel like there's a lot more room for improvement in me. I feel I'm a better pitcher now than I was last year and I'll continue to get better."
The Reds will give Gosling the opportunity to prove that this spring. With Paul Wilson still unable to pitch at game speed, Narron said Gosling, Justin Germano, Ben Kozlowski and Elizardo Ramirez will have "a great opportunity" to showcase themselves in Grapefruit League games.
The first four spots in the starting rotation are essentially set with Aaron Harang, Brandon Claussen, Eric Milton and Dave Williams, and no one is sure how long it will take Wilson to return. So the aforementioned quartet could be auditioning for a short-term job out of camp, a long-term stay in Cincinnati, or a call-up sometime down the road.
Gosling, naturally, would prefer to be with the Reds from start to finish in 2006.
"I'm pitching like there's a spot to be won, that's my attitude," he said. "Whether or not that's the truth, I don't know, and honestly I'd rather not know. I'd rather just put it in my head that there's a spot available and if I pitch well enough, I can win it. That gives me a lot more motivation to go out there and pitch well.
"I feel like, if I get to run out there every few days, hopefully I'll have a good enough spring that I'll make a decision easy for Jerry and for Wayne to want to have me as one of the five guys. I've just got to pitch well enough to earn their respect and pitch well enough that they just really want me there to start the season."
A few more starts like Friday's and that decision could indeed be easy for the Reds.