With Bats, Bailey's No. 1 goal is control
Reds' top pitching prospect seeks confidence with Bats
By C. L. Brown • firstname.lastname@example.org • April 1, 2008
Homer Bailey made it look easy as he sprinted through the minor leagues.
The slender pitcher with the big right arm was the Cincinnati Reds' 2006 minor league Player of the Year. He was rated their top prospect from 2004-06.
There was a relatively brief stop in Triple-A Louisville before making his major league debut last season a month after turning 21.
That's where things didn't come so easy.
Bailey's nine starts with the Reds were a humbling experience, as was his spring. And he's beginning the new season back in Louisville.
"We lose track of how hard this game is," Bailey said yesterday. "There's a reason there are only a select few up there and there's even a more select few that excel. It's not something that's going to be learned overnight."
With more learning to do, Bailey was at Louisville Slugger Field yesterday as the Bats assembled for the first time after spring training in Florida. The team will work out at 2 p.m. today in a public session before beginning the season Thursday at Syracuse.
Bailey will be the Bats' opening-day pitcher. It's not something he expected, but he's learning not to rush his ascent to the major leagues.
"I have probably (less) patience than anybody," he said. "When I'm not doing as well as I can, I do have to sit back and say, 'Take a look at the big picture. Take a step back and slow down and get everything under control.' "
Bailey struggled with his control with the Reds last season. Despite a 4-2 record, he had a 5.76 ERA in nine starts and matched his 28 strikeouts with 28 walks.
Ricky Stone, one of the Bats' veteran pitchers, said the most important number isn't in Bailey's stats -- it's his age. Bailey won't turn 22 until May 3. The Bats' only younger player is outfielder Jay Bruce, who'll become 21 Thursday.
Stone, who has pitched in the big leagues for Houston, San Diego and Cincinnati, said despite all the accomplishments, Bailey simply needs a bit more seasoning.
"He's still 21 years old; people forget about that," Stone said. "He moved so quickly and has done so well so early, and now they're saying his control is not there; well, his control is there.
"He's got to get his confidence. He's going to get it down here (Triple-A) and going to go right at hitters."
Louisville pitching coach Ted Power said Bailey's control correlates to how he goes at those batters.
"It's just a matter of consistency," Power said. "He's got to throw strikes earlier in the count so they can't sit on certain pitches and he's not forced to throw his second- or third-best pitch when he's behind in the count instead of his fastball."
Both Power and Bailey said his problems have been more mental than mechanical. He admitted he has been in situations on the mound where he has lost focus.
"You could be out there mowing the lawn and start thinking about something else, and you look back like, 'I just missed a spot there,' " Bailey said. "It's kind of the same thing."
In six starts this spring with the Reds, he had 16 walks to 11 strikeouts and a 5.21 ERA. That -- and the success of young pitchers Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez -- led to his demotion.
How long Bailey stays in Louisville, where he went 6-3 with a 3.07 ERA in 12 starts last season, remains to be seen.
Louisville Bats manager Rick Sweet said the outlook is "fluid," depending on how quickly Bailey regains his control and the needs in Cincinnati. Sweet said that despite Bailey's struggles to meet expectations -- both his own and external -- he has not gotten down on himself.
"Without a doubt he struggled a little bit last year," Sweet said. "He got it back together. He had a good spring training. I'm excited to watch and see what Homer is going to do."
C.L. Brown can be reached at (502) 582-4044.