Belisle should be a lock for the bullpen, IMO. He's one of the better arms we have on the team.
Belisle looks to secure role with Reds
Right-hander vies for one of three projected openings
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When you're a young player with Minor League options and without a multi-year contract, these final days of Spring Training can be some of the toughest.
"It's that time of year," Reds pitcher Matt Belisle said. "Unless you are set and everybody else knows you're set, it's a different time. The biggest thing is to focus in on the only thing you can control -- that's what you bring every day and what you bring to the field."
Belisle made Cincinnati's 25-man roster out of camp last year and is trying to do likewise to head north with the club again.
"The cards will unfold as they may," he said.
This spring, the 25-year-old Belisle appeared to have made the most of the hands he's been dealt. He is 0-0 with a 3.00 ERA and seven strikeouts in nine innings over eight appearances.
Entering Friday night, Belisle had allowed just one run over his previous five innings. The nice run ended during a bumpy ninth inning against the Devil Rays however. Struggling with his command, he gave up one run on two hits. He also issued his first two walks all spring, including a four-pitch free pass with two outs that loaded the bases and brought the tying run to the plate. He escaped the jam with a game-ending pop out.
There are three spots projected available if the Reds carry 12 pitchers, as expected. Belisle seemed to have put himself in decent position to get one of them.
"He's picking up a lot from where he left off last year," Reds manager Jerry Narron said before the game. "He's throwing strikes. He's got good velocity. He's got good sink on his fastball when he throws his two-seamer. We'd like to see his breaking ball be more consistent."
In 2005, Belisle handled a swing role on the pitching staff, which required him to be ready to either start or work in middle and long relief opportunities. Making 60 appearances, including five starts, he was 4-8 with a 4.41 ERA. He struck out 59, with 26 walks.
A starting pitcher his entire career in the Minors, the Reds were pleased with Belisle's transition to the bullpen.
"He did a nice job coming up last year," pitching coach Vern Ruhle said. "He's developed a lot of confidence, pitching out of the pen, getting warmed up and so on. He's done everything you want to see as far as getting his arm loose."
"You've got to look at it through my eyes," Belisle said. "Whatever opportunity unfolds, you're just excited to have it and go after it. I gained a newfound respect for the bullpen and love how each role is vital to the importance of a team. I grew to love it."
Belisle was born and raised in Austin, Texas and not surprisingly, was a big fan of superstar pitchers -- and fellow Texans -- Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. But he didn't do any pitching as a kid until the summer before his sophomore year in high school.
That changed when Tommy Boggs, a former big league pitcher with the Braves and Rangers, invited Belisle to pitch in an Austin area summer baseball league he founded. The league boasts Astros outfielder Lance Berkman as a prominent former player.
"That's where I got my exposure to scouts and that's where I learned to develop my skills," Belisle said. "Tommy took me under his wing and I can honestly say I wouldn't be here without him. He brought me along and knew I had potential. He helped me in more ways than baseball. We're still real close."
A star at McCallum High School, Belisle was a 1998 second-round pick of the Braves, but not the organization's top pick that year. Thoughts danced in his head about one day joining a powerhouse Atlanta rotation that featured Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.
Belisle was clearly headed in that direction in 2000 when he led all Braves Minor Leaguers with 168 strikeouts combined at the Class A and Double-A levels. His progress was slowed when the entire 2001 season was lost because of a ruptured disc in his back that required surgery.
By 2003, he was following in the footsteps of Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine no more. That August, the Reds made him the player to be named later in the trade that sent reliever Kent Mercker to the Braves. Mercker has since returned to Cincinnati.
"There was never a point that I was thinking I wouldn't be part of the next wave (of pitchers) over there (in Atlanta)," Belisle said. "The trade was something that was a surprise."
But it accelerated his journey to the Major Leagues. Following just four starts at Triple-A Louisville, Belisle was promoted that September -- the 29th Reds pitcher called up in 2003. He went 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA in six relief appearances. In 2004, he was called up from Louisville for three days but didn't get to pitch.
The Reds believe Belisle has the type of stuff that could one day make him a candidate for late-inning set-up or closer roles. At the moment however, he just needs to lock down a job.
"I want to be part of the club, period," Belisle said. "I truly believe I can start, or I can fill a bullpen role. Wherever they need me to be part of the puzzle that turns us around is where I want to be."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.