Hot start makes Coffey the Reds' bullpen workhorse
By Hal McCoy

Staff Writer

DENVER | If Cincinnati Reds manager Jerry Narron expects relief pitcher Todd Coffey to, "Just say no," well, Coffey assures everybody, "It ain't gonna happen."

And, yes, Narron is concerned that he might burn up his best relief pitcher, a guy he called to the mound 14 times in the team's first 27 games, for 17 innings of pitching.

But when you have a strong horse, you ride it. And Narron is riding Coffey as if he is Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes. Coffey has responded at 2-0 with a 0.53 earned-run average.

"Yes, I'm concerned about using him too much," Narron said. "He pitched two innings Tuesday (in a 3-2 win over St. Louis) and I'm hoping we don't have to use him in the two-game series against the Colorado Rockies.

"But he is a guy who wants to throw every day and feels like he can throw every day," Narron said. "I saw him in the outfield (Wednesday) playing long toss and throwing hard. I don't really know what's the best way to handle him."

Coffey says there is no need for discussion, just call him in from the bullpen for his full-sprint gallop to the mound, hand him the baseball, get out of the way, end of discussion.

"I'm definitely ready to go whenever Jerry asks me, no questions asked," said the one-time 300-pounder, who is now a 6-foot-5, 230-pound plowhorse from Forest City, N.C.

"My job is to be in the bullpen and come out whenever he calls me," said the guy who bursts from the bullpen like a rodeo bull. "And I do whatever it takes every day to be able to do that.

"I won't ever say no," he said. "I do listen to my body to see how it feels, but I'm used to doing what I need to do to get ready. My arm has bounced back really well ever since I came back from Tommy John (elbow) surgery from Dr. (Tim) Kremchek in 2000. My arm has bounced back real well ever since then."

Narron hoped to give Coffey a Denver vacation, but Coffey is ready for what he calls the longest run from the bullpen to the mound in the league, compounded by Denver's thin air.

"I remember it from last year," he said. "I was a little extra winded. But when the moment comes, I can't hold anything back — on the run to the mound or when I'm on the mound."

Coffey is a rare find, a guy drafted in the 41st round, a round so far down the list that some general managers use it to draft their nephews, the sons of their brothers-in-law and, just for giggles, their family pets.

Shortly after Coffey was drafted, the scales groaned under his 300 pounds, but he said, "My brother was even bigger than me."

Coffey removed the weight, but has taken on the added burden of being Narron's big guy out of the bullpen, in more ways than one.

He took a big game with him Tuesday against the Cardinals. Narron brought him into the eighth inning of a 2-2 tie, a normal move. Usually, though, Narron would replace Coffey with David Weathers for the ninth. He didn't do it Tuesday.

"He had a quick eighth inning, hadn't thrown many pitches," Narron said.

That's a fine and valid explanation, but it also was a vote of supreme confidence to send a 25-year-old second-year major-leaguer to the mound in the ninth inning of a tie game against the mighty, mighty Cardinals.

It worked. Coffey pitched another scoreless inning, and pinch-hitter Javier Valentin's game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth made Coffey the winner.

To Narron, Coffey was a winner long before then.