'I told them I didn't care if I wasn't the closer,' he says
By Hal McCoy
Dayton Daily News
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. | While the Cincinnati Reds enter the 2006 season without a designated closer, their old closer is in camp with the Cleveland Indians, his mullet-style hair flowing toward his shoulders and another piece of ever-present body art snaking up his left arm.
Danny Graves is on a path toward making the Indians' relief staff after he was nearly exiled out of baseball last year by the Reds, some of it because of a sudden and lasting siege of ineffectiveness and more of it because of an unfortunate finger-flashing incident with a vulgar fan.
Told the Reds were devoid of a closer, Graves said, "I don't think that city is ready for me to come back just yet. Maybe down the road, you never know."
Graves, 32, is in Cleveland's camp on a minor-league contract but is the front-runner in pursuit of the last spot on the pitching staff, where he will pitch in the seventh or eighth inning.
He pitched a 1-2-3 inning against the Reds earlier this spring, but his former teammates turned ugly Sunday, punching him for three runs in the fourth inning, including a home run by Austin Kearns during Cleveland's 9-4 victory.
"I told them I didn't care if I wasn't the closer," said Graves. "As long as they don't start me, I'm good."
That was a not-so-veiled reference to 2003 when then Cincinnati manager Bob Boone reeled in him into the starting rotation and he went 4-15 in 26 starts with a 5.33 earned run average.
He was not the same as a closer after that.
This spring, he is thinner of body and wiser of mind.
"I got prepared for spring training this year before spring training began," he said. "The previous eight years with the Reds I used spring training to get ready for the season. I had to do it this year because I didn't have a spot on the roster. I wish I had done it with the Reds, but when you are young and dumb, that's the way it is. You think everything is easy and it isn't."
Graves said the Indians coaching staff, particularly bullpen coach Louie Isaac, in his 42nd year with the Tribe, has resurrected his career.
"Louie has made a couple of adjustments of mechanical flaws he spotted," said Graves. "When he saw me throw this spring, he said, 'That's not how you used to throw.' I'm using my legs more and I'm going straight at the the plate rather than fall off side — stuff I didn't realize I was doing or not doing."
Of the coaching help, Graves added, "I've never been around so many coaches who want to help rather than see their names in the papers. They've helped me get the movement on my fastball back and my sinker has been good. I'm getting action on my pitches again."
Before giving up three runs Sunday, Graves had made 10 appearances and was 1-1 with a 2.31 earned run average, giving up three earned runs in 11 2/3 innings, walking none and striking out five.
"Mentally, I'm back together again," he said. "I feel like I'm a baseball player again, and I haven't felt like that since before I left Cincinnati. Being in a winning atmosphere, like here, got me back on track."
The Reds, though, may have derailed him. Graves' main competition for a spot is Steve Karsay, who pitched a scoreless inning Sunday.
Karsay gave up a double to Brian Buchanan, but that doesn't count. Buchanan had a double off Graves, too, and nobody gets him out. In fact, he saw four pitches Sunday and had four hits.
For the spring he is 20 for 33 (.606) with eight doubles and a home run bringing a smile to manager Jerry Narron's face and the words, "He has done everything in his power to make the club. He is hitting and playing defense, done well to help himself not only here but throughout baseball."