Reds pitching a lingering worry
Staff wasn't great to begin with; now three are aching
By Hal McCoy / Dayton Daily News

BRADENTON, FLA . | Even before spring training began, the Cincinnati Reds starting staff was thinner than a derelict's wallet, thinner than the broth in a soup kitchen.

When camp began, Paul Wilson and his surgically fixed shoulder was a question mark and he remains a question mark.

Everybody else, though, was as fit as a Stradivarius until the last few days.

First, Eric Milton missed a start with a sore right calf. He missed a turn, then tried to come back for his first start early this week and tweaked the calf.

Then Aaron Harang, easily the team's best starter last season, missed his turn Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates with shoulder inflammation.

That leaves a healthy rotation of Brandon Claussen, newcomer Dave Williams, Eenie, Meenie, Miney or perhaps Mo.

Is there panic forefront? Is anybody reaching for that button with the 'P' on it, as in panic or, maybe, pitching?

Manager Jerry Narron is keeping a cement upper lip.

"Really, for me, it gives other guys an opportunity to pitch who wouldn't normally get those innings," said Narron. "It gives us a chance to see more guys."

That's why names like Phil Dumatrait and Tommy Phelps have started recent games. Phelps, 32 and a professional for 13 years with only 75 major-league appearances, took advantage Thursday, holding the Pirates to no runs and two hits over three innings of a 2-1 Reds victory.

Narron said if the pitching disruptions came later, the concern would deepen.

"Right now, there is not as much concern as if there would be if it happened after March 15," he said. "If Milton or Harang miss their next starts, then that would be a concern."

Wilson is on a five-day program as if he were pitching regularly in the rotation. He is scheduled to throw 80 or more pitches in the bullpen today to "See if we can strengthen my arm and then prepare my body between sessions."

Said trainer Mark Mann, "We're going to give him a couple of more side sessions, then have him pitch a simulated game. He is pain-free and building arm strength."

His return? No timetable.

Milton is expected to pitch a simulated game Sunday, "So that he doesn't have to run to field bunts or cover first base," said Narron.

Mann said Milton's arm-strength is perfect, that he can pitch, but running puts him in jeopardy. He threw on the side Thursday morning with no restrictions and no pain.

"We have him on a running and agility program and that will determine when he pitches a simulated game on a back field, maybe Sunday," said Mann. "We're just not going to let him face major-league hitters until the calf is completely healthy, when he doesn't feel anything in it."

Harang believes his shoulder pain came from tinkering with his mechanics, putting unfamiliar pressure on it.

"I did the same thing when I pitched in Double-A (Midland, 2001)," said Harang. "We tinkered with my mechanics and my body was telling me, 'Don't mess with what you're doing.'"

After working on mechanics last week, Harang said he felt stiffness and thought it was the normal stiffness after a pitcher throws a lot. But when it didn't loosen up and lingered he reported to Mann.

"We have to wait and see on Harang and if misses another start it would be a concern," said Narron.

In the meantime, the Reds rotation over the next few days is listed as: Dumatrait today, Claussen Saturday, Justin Germano Sunday, To Be Announced Monday and To Be Announced Tuesday.