Bats' pitching staff has a generation gap
Young rotation and a veteran bullpen
By Brian Bennett
The Courier-Journal

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Louisville Bats' pitching staff looks kind of like a school bus. The youngsters are up front, and the experienced guys are in the back.

The Bats expect to feature a rotation of five pitchers 25 or younger. The bullpen will be full of veterans, with the notable exception of 23-year-old Ryan Wagner, who was optioned down from Cincinnati yesterday. But since Wagner spent most of the past three seasons with the Reds, he can be considered a veteran as well.

"Our starters are young but very good," manager Rick Sweet said. "And everyone in the bullpen has had success at Triple-A."

Here's a closer look at the staff, starting with the starters:

Justin Germano will get the opening-day start at Ottawa on Thursday.

The 23-year-old right-hander arrived in the Joe Randa trade last July and went 3-2 with a 4.01 ERA in eight starts for the Bats. He doesn't have one dominant pitch but owns great command of four pitches and is nearly a finished product in terms of development.

"I love him," Bats pitching coach Mario Soto said. "I thought he would be the fifth starter for the Reds until they got (Bronson) Arroyo. The guy can pitch."

The Reds think they got a steal when they claimed Michael Gosling off waivers from Arizona in February. He's 25 and left-handed, and though he struggled in relief for the Diamondbacks last year, he posted a 3.33 ERA in five late-season starts.

"I've just got to get a little more consistent," he said. "Toward the end of spring training here I feel I've been throwing the ball better. It's up to me just to go to Louisville and put up good numbers."

Maybe the best sign for Elizardo Ramirez's development is that he hit a guy the other day in a spring game. Ramirez earned the nickname "Easy" for the effortless way he throws darts, but the knock on him has been that he throws too many pitches in the strike zone.

That worked just fine for the 23-year-old righty in Triple-A, where he posted a 3.77 ERA in 21 starts for the Bats in 2005. But major league batters loved the fact that most of his pitches were in the hitting zone, hence his 8.46 ERA in six appearances with the Reds.

Ramirez has worked closely with Soto this spring on making batters chase his pitches.

"I'd rather have a guy throw strikes than have a guy who's wild," Soto said. "He just has to learn how to pitch and when to throw those strikes."

Jung Keun Bong won eight games for Louisville in 2004 but missed all of last season after shoulder surgery and then a broken hand he suffered in his first rehab start. Bong, 25, played for Korea in the World Baseball Classic but threw only 22/3 innings and isn't stretched out to start yet. The left-hander will work on that in Sarasota until mid-April, with veteran Chris Michalak starting until Bong is ready.

Josh Hall has pitched in the majors but not in Triple-A. After a brief stint with the Reds in 2003, the 25-year-old right-hander missed all of 2004 with a shoulder injury. He bounced back with a 3.53 ERA for Double-A Chattanooga last season.

The bullpen is highlighted by Wagner, who reached Cincinnati just months after being drafted in the first round in 2003. He has a live arm and a devastating slider, but he struggled to a 6.11 ERA with the Reds last year.

Other relievers include lefty Brian Shackelford, who had a 2.43 ERA in 37 games for the Reds last year; right-hander Jason Standridge, who had 32 appearances for Cincinnati in '05; curveball artist Tom Shearn; and lefty Ben Kozlowski, a converted starter.

"Looking around, I think I'm the only guy without big-league experience," said Shearn, a key reliever for last year's Bats. "And Wagner coming down is only going to strengthen our pen."

The Bats also will have two experienced closer candidates. Scott Chiasson had 34 saves between two levels in 2001, and Jake Robbins had 29 for Triple-A Buffalo last season.

"I think it's going to be a good pitching staff at Triple-A," Soto said, "and that's also good for the major league club."

Player moves
The Reds reassigned infielder Frank Menechino and outfielders Brian Buchanan, Jacob Cruz and Quinton McCracken to Triple-A camp yesterday. McCracken likely would have been Cincinnati's fourth outfielder, but he injured a foot late in camp.

Instead, Chris Denorfia will be the Reds' fourth outfielder, having been recalled from Louisville. Non-roster invitee Andy Abad also made the Reds' roster.

Brian Bennett can be reached at (502) 582-7177.