Resilient Reds manage to keep the heat on Cards
BY JEFF GORDON
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
Monday, Aug. 14 2006
Back in the spring, we touted the Cincinnati Reds as a legitimate playoff
threat. Clearly this team has FINALLY upgraded its pitching.
That, combined with their ever-productive offense, figured to give the Reds
And the Reds have, in fact, lasted in the NL Central Race -– but only because
of the collective persistence of the entire operation. A series of pitching
crises befell the team again this summer, but the Reds have battled back within
1 ˝ games of the Cardinals heading into this week’s three-game series.
This has been quite an accomplishment. Playing home games in the Great American
Launching Pad takes a toll on starting pitchers.
Veteran Eric Milton is having another tough year in this ballpark. During his
12 starts there, he has allowed 14 homers -– twice as many as he has allowed on
the road -- while recording an earned-run average of 5.19.
Staff ace Aaron Harang is an even more dramatic example. In 13 starts at home, he allowed 13 homers and posted a 5.09 ERA. In 13 games on the road (including 12 starts), he allowed four homers while recording a 2.40 ERA.
Newcomer Bronson Arroyo starred in all venues earlier this season. Back on June 19, he was 9-3 with a 2.47 ERA.
But he hasn’t won a game since. He had a 5.45 ERA in July and his ERA so far
this month is 6.27. Arroyo has tried everything -– including getting a cornrow
haircut -– to get back on track. Nothing has worked.
“I'm about at the end of my rope, superstition-wise,” Arroyo told the
Associated Press. “Maybe I'll have to bring in a live chicken or something.”
One calamity after another has hit the pitching staff this season. Each time it
appears one hole is filled, two more appear. The Reds have used 26 different
pitchers this season and counting.
Manager Jerry Narron and pitching coach Tom Hume have been tested all season. (Hume stepped in for pitching coach Vern Ruhle, who began undergoing cancer treatments this spring in Florida. It has been that sort of year for the Reds.)
Among the current pitching cast is Chris Michalak, a 35-year-old lefthander
with 53 big league appearances before his recall. He is in line for his first
major league start since 2001.
Kent Mercker, Gary Majewski, Jason Standridge and Matt Belisle are on the
15-day disabled list and Brandon Claussen, Paul Wilson and Grant Balfour are on the 60-day shelf.
Mercker’s latest elbow injury -- he will undergo reconstructive surgery
Thursday -- could be a career-ender for the former Cardinal. That is a tough
blow, since Mercker had been an effective specialist for the Reds this season.
“I'm not at the age where if I have to have 'Tommy John,' I'm not going to go
through all that,” Mercker told reporters Friday. “Maybe it's muscular. I don't
know. But I know it would be less painful to have a C-section without an
epidural than to throw another pitch. I would assume. I've never had one. But I hear it's painful.”
General manager Wayne Krivsky has worked relentlessly to upgrade his pitching staff, adding one hurler after another to the battered mix. His best get has been closer Eddie Guardado, who has converted eight of 10 save opportunities since arriving from Seattle.
But the staff struggles continue. Guardado blew his save opportunity Sunday,
forcing the Reds to pull out a 7-5 victory in 11 innings in Philadelphia.
Back on Friday night, the Reds fell 6-5 in 14 innings and burned up the
pitching staff in the process. They used nine pitchers in that loss.
The Cincinnati Enquirer notes that the three-game series required 34 innings
and 1,176 pitches. Somehow, the Reds soldiered through it and kept moving
You can’t give them enough credit for what they have done.
“That's what we've been doing all year,” Reds slugger Ken Griffey Jr. said
after Sunday’s victory. “Until the last out is made we think we can make it
tough on the other team. To win ballgames and try to get in the playoffs,
you've got to try and do that.
“So far we've been able to do some things and have fun.”