Numbers don't add up?
Spring training performances are not always an accurate measurement
BY JOHN FAY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
SARASOTA, Fla. - Flash back to February 2003. Austin Kearns comes out of the batting cage on one of the back fields at the Ed Smith Stadium complex shaking his head.
"This guy's throwing like it's the seventh game of the World Series," Kearns said.
The guy Kearns was talking about was Josias Manzanillo. Manzanillo came to spring training after pitching in Winter Ball. He was in shape and bent on making the team.
He made the team that spring by putting up a 0.75 ERA over 11 innings. He allowed only four hits and looked fairly awesome.
Once the season started, it didn't quite work out as planned. He gave up 21 hits and had a 12.66 ERA after nine games when the Reds shipped him out - but not before Ken Griffey Jr. wrecked his shoulder making a diving stab at a gapper allowed by Manzanillo.
Moral of this anecdote: Don't trust spring training numbers.
Based on last year's spring training, Brian Buchanan was headed to the Hall of Fame. Once the real games started, he was overmatched at Triple-A Louisville.
Ryan Wagner was the Reds' best reliever each of the last two springs. His ERA in the regular season was 6.11 in '05 and 4.70 in '06. Not exactly lights out.
That is not to say what Homer Bailey does this spring doesn't merit headlines. But spring training numbers often lie.
Now that we've made that disclaimer, here's what we'll be looking for this spring:
The No. 5 starter competition: Kirk Saarloos has the advantage of experience. But Matt Belisle was very good in two starts at the end of last year and in Winter Ball.
Belisle's stuff is in the upper echelon of Reds pitchers. Elizardo Ramirez had a 4.21 ERA before his shoulder began bothering him. Bobby Livingston, Victor Santos and Paul Wilson are also in the mix.
"We've got a lot of guys to choose from," Reds manager Jerry Narron said.
Bailey, at least nominally, is in the mix as well.
Adam Dunn: The guy fans love to hate is supposed to show up today. The kind of shape he's in will get major scrutiny, although talk that Dunn was fat last year was wrong. He's not going to win Mr. Olympia, but he carries his 270 pounds well. The guy's 6 feet 6 with legs like tree trunks.
But his average has gone from .266 to .247 to .234 the last three years. And his on-base-plus-slugging percentage has gone from .956 to .927 to .855. He has to reverse that trend or the Reds might be hurting offensively.
Josh Hamilton: Forget about his off-the-field problems. The big question is, can he still play? Hamilton, a Rule 5 pickup and former No. 1 pick overall, is a specimen and has a gun for a left arm. But he barely has played since 2002. The Reds probably are willing to tie up a roster spot if they feel it's worth the risk.
Closer: The Reds pretty much know what they're going to get form left-hander Mike Stanton and right-hander David Weathers. The plan to use them as co-closers could change if one of the young pitchers - Todd Coffey or Bill Bray - looks particularly good this spring.
Right or center: Narron sounds as if he's leaning more toward playing Griffey in center field than right. That makes sense because Jeff Conine plays only left or right and figures to get a lot of time as the fourth outfielder.
REMEMBERING VERNON: The shocker of last spring was that pitching coach Vern Ruhle had cancer. Ruhle, of course, succumbed to the disease Jan. 20.