Williamson is a rare bright spot in Reds campPosted: Tuesday February 19, 2002 12:44 PM
Throughout spring training, CNNSI.com will feature regular dispatches from Sports Illustrated staffers assigned to scout camps in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues.
By Jeff Pearlman, Sports Illustrated
Team: Cincinnati Reds
Site: Sarasota, Fla.
Weather: Breezy, High 60s
Player I Saw Whom I Really Liked: Scott Williamson. When the right-hander walked into the Reds' spring training facility for his first day of workouts, he was greeted by a vast wasteland. All the lockers were empty. There were no nametags. The coffee machine, regularly a nonstop brewing monster, was dry. "It was weird," says Williamson. "Usually there's so much activity." Weird, but -- considering he first arrived in early January, more than a month before pitchers and catchers were due -- not surprising.
Williamson's early arrival is evidence of just how anxious he is to put 2001 behind him. He sat out almost all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April, and was missed terribly by the pitching-lite Reds. "It was a miserable existence," says Williamson, a 1999 All-Star who has been both a starter and reliever for Cincinnati. "I'd come to the games and be on the bench. Everyone would be wearing spikes and I'd be sitting there in my sneakers, rooting the team on. You feel like you're in the way, just making things worse. So I wanted to erase that memory, get here early and start working on my comeback."
So far, so good. Though Reds manager Bob Boone has expressed concern about rushing Williamson, the Friendswood, Texas native has made rapid progress. He's thrown off the mound several times, and his arm strength -- measured by the Reds with a MicroFit test -- rates higher now than before the injury. "He looks to be in great condition," says Cincinnati pitching coach Don Gullett. "Having a healthy Scott Williamson would be a huge boost to our club."
Alas, here's the rub. According to Williamson, he can best serve the team as a member of the Reds' potentially horrific starting rotation. "It'd be my first choice," he says. According to Boone and Gullett, the 26-year-old would be better off spending some time -- perhaps a full season -- in the bullpen. They cite the two latest Tommy John success stories: Cardinals ace Matt Morris and Braves closer John Smoltz, two pitchers whose recoveries were helped by initially being used only in relief. "Scott's a driven guy, and I know he wants to come back strong," says Boone. "But in this case, patience is golden."
Around the Horn: Cincy's rotation is so potentially thin (Think Devil Rays, then subtract Tanyon Sturtze) that three non-roster invitees (Joey Hamilton, Jimmy Haynes and Brian Bohanon could wind up as the top three starters. ... Boone says his lineup is set, save for right field, where an interesting battle will brew among Austin Kearns, Ruben Mateo and Juan Encarnacion. Although Kearns, the organization's top prospect, is the inevitable starter, he'll have to dazzle Boone to win the gig. Otherwise, two once-upon-a-time phenoms with Grade-A talent and Grade-D drive could split the time. ... On his first day at camp, Boone was thrilled to be greeted by a package from Wally Joyner, who played for the skipper in Kansas City. The gift? A box filled with cigars, a perfect present for Boone, whose office wall houses a sign that reads "No Smoking ... Cigars Only." ... The early star of Reds camp was scrappy second baseman Jerry Wuest, a 5-foot-7 newcomer from Lawrenceberg, Ind. Despite inspired play that made him the talk of the 'hood, Wuest will unlikely stick. He is, after all, a 64-year-old Parkinson's sufferer who, despite the condition, took part in the team's week-long fantasy camp. Wuest's hands shake terribly, until he picks up a bat. Then he looks like an older Eric Young. Said Cincinnati bench coach Ray Knight of Wuest: "Absolutely amazing." ... Reds non-roster invitee Ricardo Aramboles, a right-handed pitcher, set a new team record by eating five hard boiled eggs at the clubhouse breakfast table.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jeff Pearlman will check in periodically with reports from his tour of spring camps. Click here to send a question to his Spring Training Mailbag.