Pitching likely a cut above '06
Rotation may be Reds' strength
By C. Trent Rosecrans
Post staff reporter
Reds manager Jerry Narron figures he'll have a better pitching staff to work with than he had this time a year ago.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Consider where Jerry Narron was entering spring training in 2006. As he looked at the start of his first full season as Reds manager, Narron had a possible rotation of Aaron Harang, Brandon Claussen, Eric Milton, Dave Williams and his pick of Michael Gosling and Justin Germano. In the bullpen, he had his pick of the likes of Mike Burns, Chris Hammond and Rick White.
Perhaps that's why his lack of a closer or fifth starter heading into 2007 didn't seem to faze him as he sat down with reporters at the winter meetings on Tuesday.
"The big thing, we pitched well enough," Narron said of his team's late-season fade from National League Central leaders to an eventual third-place finish. "Our offense, we just didn't score any runs. When (Ken Griffey Jr.) went out, it was a big blow."
The numbers back up Narron - the Reds had an ERA of 3.61 in September, but hit .227.
Barring another headline-grabbing trade by general manager Wayne Krivsky, the Reds have a solid rotation from one through four with Harang (16-11, 3.76), Bronson Arroyo (14-11, 3.29), Milton (8-8, 5.19) and Kyle Lohse (3-5, 4.57).
"Shoot, you just start with Harang and Arroyo at the top, and you get 235, 230 innings out of both of them, 470 out of both of them, you feel like you have a pretty good chance of winning every night with them," Narron said.
Milton came back from one of the worst seasons by a starter in major league history to at the very least reach a .500 record. With 14 quality starts, Milton kept the Reds in more games than he did in his horrendous 2005 despite undergoing two surgeries - one on his knee in April and a season-ending elbow surgery in September.
"I think the biggest thing with Miltie is just being healthy with his legs, and last year when he felt good with his legs, he pitched well," Narron said. "But Miltie is not a sinkerballer, he's not going to get ground balls, so he's got to hit his spots, change speeds, and if he does that like he did at times last year, he can be successful."
Lohse started 11 games for the Reds after being acquired from the Twins for minor leaguer Travis Ward. He was 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA as a starter, but he allowed one earned run or less in five of those outings.
As the roster stands now, Matt Belisle (2-0, 3.60), Elizardo Ramirez (4-9, 5.37) and Phil Dumatrait (3-4, 3.62 in Class AAA Louisville) would battle for the fifth starter spot.
Beyond the rotation, the Reds already have six of seven bullpen slots spoken for with the impending signing of David Weathers to go along with Mike Stanton, Bill Bray, Gary Majewski, Todd Coffey and Rheal Cormier.
Coffey was the Reds closer for part of last season, but struggled in the role, posting ERAs over 5.00 in June, July and August. Narron said he doesn't see Coffey moving back to the closer role anytime soon.
"I really like the role he's coming in with guys on base, he's going to throw strikes, he's not going to walk people," Narron said. "I really think he's best suited for coming in with guys on base who are just starting the sixth, seventh, eighth inning, right in there. That's not to say he'll ever be a closer, but right now he's pretty good at that role."
Bray, 23, may be the Reds' closer of the future and could even get a chance this season.
"I love Bill Bray's makeup, got a very good arm," Narron said. "Last year was a great learning experience for him."
Majewski struggled after coming over from the Nationals in the eight-player deal with the Nationals, but after coming back from an August stint on the disabled list with inflammation in his right shoulder he had a 1.59 ERA in eight appearances.
The only thing lacking in the bullpen is a legitimate, everyday closer. Until then, Narron will use the combination of Stanton and Weathers to finish games.
"I think everybody would like to have a closer," Narron said. "We'll just match it up and see if somebody can really step up and do it. But until then, we'll just match it up."