03/08/2006 11:04 PM ET
Cup of Coffey could fill closer role
Who says nice guys have to finish last?
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Good guy, nasty stuff.
Reds reliever Todd Coffey will usually say a friendly hello and offer his guests a seat if they want to chat near his locker. He has big-league size at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds.
But a search for any big-league arrogance from Coffey would be futile.
Reds manager Jerry Narron noticed that much last fall during the organization's instructional league in Sarasota, where Coffey was working on his split-fingered fastball.
"They had a rule where you couldn't have facial hair. He shaved [his goatee]," Narron said. "They had a rule where you pulled your pants up to show red [socks] and he did that. Probably a lot of guys that had one day in the big leagues would have complained about it and he never did. He's a special kind of person."
Standing on the mound, Coffey tries to be much less accommodating when dealing with those who stand in the batters' box.
"I'm going to go out there and be aggressive and go right at you," Coffey said.
The Reds know they have a potential closer for the future in the 25-year-old right-hander. What they don't know is when that future accelerates to be part of the club's present.
It's no secret that the Reds are without a closer at the moment. The club put feelers out around the league but had no success landing someone all winter. Internally, David Weathers, Kent Mercker, Coffey and others will all get chances in the ninth inning.
Former Reds pitcher Mario Soto, a guest instructor in camp this year, made his preference clear about who he wanted after he watched Coffey throw just a couple of times earlier in spring.
"I like him," Soto said. "I didn't know him when I got here. I told [pitching coach] Vern Ruhle, 'Listen, I don't know what you're going to do, it's up to you. But you don't have to go far to get a good closer.' I like his stuff. He throws strikes."
Coffey's career Minor League save total equals the unusually high round in which he was drafted in 1998 -- 41. That included 24 saves combined in 2004 for Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville. He spent most of 2005 in Cincinnati, going 4-1 with a 4.50 ERA and one save in 57 appearances during his rookie year.
"He's been a closer in the Minor Leagues, but there is a big difference between the Minor Leagues and big leagues though," Narron said. "We're not putting any pressure on him to say he's going to be the closer. Right now, we just hope he pitches well enough to make the club."
Naturally so does Coffey, who has taken nothing for granted this spring. Hard-throwing relievers sometimes come to Spring Training throwing at a lower velocity and work their way up as they stretch out their arm.
Not this hard-throwing reliever. Coffey showed up at camp on Jan. 15, a full month early. He was throwing in his first bullpen session two days later.
"I come in with my arm pretty much 100 percent," Coffey said. "You're going to go through a dead arm [period]. Since I'm a fastball pitcher pretty much, I need to have that ready. Me having that ready to go is very important."
At the suggestion of another guest instructor in camp, Tom Browning, Coffey has lightened the load in his bag of tricks. Instead of using four or five different pitches, he'll try using two or three.
"The more I thought about it, you have starters using four pitches or three pitches," Coffey said. "Relievers? I'm going to see the guy one time. Most of the time, I'm throwing a fastball anyway. Why do I want to have more pitches out there to complicate everything?"
Besides the fastball and a slider, that third pitch could end up being a changeup. Soto offered some advice to improve its effectiveness earlier in spring. The tips are already paying dividends.
"Right now, I like how it works," Coffey. "I threw two changeups to righties [Sunday] and got outs."
That could mean he shaved off his goatee last fall for nothing. If Coffey stays with the changeup, he said he'd probably ditch the split-fingered fastball he had worked on.
So far, the results have been positive this spring. In three games, Coffey has thrown three scoreless innings. On Tuesday against Toronto, he worked a scoreless fifth inning with a strikeout and a walk.
"I'm hoping, at worst, he can do what he did a year ago," Narron said. "If he can do that, we've got a guy we can trust."