Dayton players join Reds at Fifth Third
Eight Dragons head home early to take part in today's exhibition finale with the Marlins.
By Marc Katz

Staff Writer

Saturday, March 31, 2007

SARASOTA, Fla. A usual hot Friday morning at spring training was actually different.

It was the last Friday morning at spring training, and one of the last days.

The Cincinnati Reds played an exhibition game at Ed Smith Stadium, then took a charter plane home. Eight Class A Midwest League Dayton Dragons were with them after their exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on a back field.

Those Dragons will participate with the Reds in a 2 p.m. exhibition game against the Florida Marlins today at Fifth Third Field, giving Dayton fans an early glimpse of their summer. The rest of the Dragons leave today and Sunday.

The chosen eight include Dayton's starting infield first baseman Logan Parker, second baseman Justin Turner, shortstop Chris Valaika and third baseman Juan Francisco. The others are outfielders Chris Heisey and Denis Phipps, and pitchers Jordan Smith and Travis Webb.

By Monday, they and the rest of the Dragons will gather at Fifth Third Field for a late-afternoon practice.

"I always loved spring training," said Doug Bair, the Dragons pitching coach. "Are you kidding?"

The sun is warm, the pace quick but tolerant of a few mistakes. The idea is to get in repetitions before the real games begin.

To some, there is anxiety. Will the minor-leaguers be placed on the team they want, or will they be released from the game they're trying to make their life?

Some will stay behind in what is called extended spring training, which means more drills and more games that won't be counted in official averages or standings. Fewer than 50 will stay behind this season, down from recent Reds years when the glut of players clogged the four fields used by the minor-leaguers.

A few late additions and subtractions were made Friday, and more will be made today, although only one was expected to impact the Dragons. Pitcher Robert Manuel, who played briefly with the Dragons last season, was moved to the Class A Sarasota team. Dayton manager Donnie Scott was trying to get his rotation in order. At the start, it will include Opening Day pitcher Sean Watson, Smith, Jamie Arneson, Daryl Thompson and Rafael Gonzalez. Arneson is one of four lefties on the staff.

Who emerges as the closer will be determined, but Jose Rojas and Ramon Geronimo are the initial candidates. Rojas posted a 3-1 record with 1.07 ERA in 25 relief appearances with the Dragons last summer, while Geronimo recorded 27 saves in 29 appearances for the Dominican Summer League Reds not allowing an earned run until his last game on the way to an 0.28 ERA.