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3. Cincinnati Reds
Team Page | Schedule | Roster

If the starting pitchers don't fade, you can color this team a contender

By Jeff Pearlman

 

Casey put a positive spin on his terrible first half by hitting .372 after the All-Star break and putting in a rigorous off-season.  Tom DiPace
ENEMY LINES
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Reds
"Cincinnati's pitching isn't as bad as some people make it out to be. The Reds have some talented arms. Pete Harnisch has been lights out this spring -- terrific! He's not happy that the Reds didn't extend his contract, and if they fall out of it, he'll help another club in July. Osvaldo Fernandez has been the talk of their spring. He has looked great. Scott Williamson has good power stuff, and Robbie Bell has tons of potential, so they have the makings of a good staff.... Young catcher Jason LaRue has taken the job by the horns. He's played well, hustled and handled the staff really well this spring.... Michael Coleman could work his way into the outfield picture. He's had a fine spring, but I'll wait until they start throwing good breaking balls at him to see if he can make the adjustments.... Donnie Sadler is a guy who can play a lot of positions and can run. If he ever learned some plate discipline, he could be a productive player.... Juan Castro is a shortstop who can step in and help if Barry Larkin goes down with an injury. He plays very well defensively.... The frontline guys on this team are pretty good. I don't know if the Reds are in a class with the Cardinals and Astros -- I doubt it -- but they have a chance to be pretty good. They do have some clubhouse issues. Manager Bob Boone is going to have to deal with some cliques and unhappiness that popped up last year. You'll also have to keep an eye on Boone's micromanaging style. When he and Tony La Russa get together, you'll see four-hour games."
Dennis (Wild Man) Walker, a too-loud, too-obnoxious, know-it-all sports-talk host on Cincinnati's WCKY radio, was innocently sitting in the Reds' spring training clubhouse one late February morning when -- whoosh! -- Hurricane Danny struck.

"Hey, Wild Man!" screamed Danny Graves, Cincy's baby-faced, 27-year-old closer. "What do you know about sports? What do you know about anything?"

Last season, when Sean Casey was in the midst of a nightmarish first-half slump (he hit .256 before the All-Star break), Wild Man idiotically and publicly urged the Reds to ship the first baseman to Triple A. Graves has a long memory. "Have you ever played baseball?" he yelled. "Ever!?"

Wild Man, taken aback, responded quietly (and seriously), "Yeah, Little League."

"Little League? See, guys like you don't know s---," continued Graves. "You rip Casey, you rip Griffey, you rip me -- and you've never played the game, and you don't know anything about it! You have no clue!"

Although it's slightly out of character for the happy-go-lucky Graves to berate anyone, it's not surprising to see him serve as his teammates' prime protector. Last year, as Casey and Ken Griffey Jr. struggled, as manager Jack McKeon vainly battled to keep his players' support, as the Reds traded No. 1 starter Denny Neagle to the Yankees and lost No. 2 starter Pete Harnisch to a bum right shoulder, Graves and his bullpen mates were the seasonlong defenders of playoff expectations gone awry. "As long as our starters get us to the sixth inning, we'll be O.K.," says Griffey. "I feel confident saying we have the best bullpen in the National League."

Indeed, with Graves, rubber-armed righty Scott Sullivan, situational lefty Dennys Reyes and a back-to-normal Mark Wohlers, Cincinnati's bullpen is deep, diverse and -- most important -- effective. "If Sullivan isn't messing you up with his sidearm delivery, I'm in with my sinker," says Graves, who was second in the National League with 91 1/3 relief innings. "Or maybe it's Mark, throwing a 95-mph fastball at you. Or Reyes, a tough lefty with impossible breaking stuff."

For all of the criticism heaped on Casey and Griffey last season, the Reds swung their bats pretty well. Their .274 team batting average ranked fourth in the league, and their 825 runs ranked fifth. They reached 200 home runs for only the third time in Cincinnati history. "One thing we can always do well," says Casey, whose .367 average with runners in scoring position was fourth in the league, "is hit." That said, McKeon was a bit too old-school. Despite a lineup featuring above-average base runners in Griffey, Barry Larkin and Pokey Reese, he was loath to use the hit-and-run. In 2000 the Reds stole 100 bases, their second-lowest total in 20 years. "We will be an aggressive, hard-nosed baseball team," says new manager Bob Boone. "I can promise that." Boone will use Larkin and his .377 career on-base percentage in the leadoff slot, dropping Reese (.319 OBP last year) to seventh. Leftfielder Dimitri Young, who has batted .300 or better in each of the past three seasons, moves into the number 2 spot, followed by the daunting duo of Griffey and Casey.

Even though Cincinnati -- and, in Junior's case, the rest of the nation -- focused on the offensive trials that Casey and Griffey endured in
2000, both wound up with more-than-respectable numbers thanks to strong finishes. Griffey hit .317 after the All-Star break, Casey (who, ahem, was never sent down) a Cobb-like .372. Less than 48 hours before Opening Day last year, Casey suffered a hairline fracture of his right thumb in an exhibition game. He missed 2 1/2 weeks, returned prematurely and, in his own words, "was pretty darn terrible." The second-half recovery was especially important for the happy-go-lucky Casey, whose good cheer, backslapping and "How ya doin's?" brighten Cincy's clubhouse.

This winter Casey, 26, went to work to ensure that he would pick up where he left off. He hired a personal trainer for daily workouts. He took regular three-plus-mile runs and lifted weights. And every Tuesday and Friday he drove from his Jupiter, Fla., house to a nearby fitness center, where he and 30 women took spinning classes. "I sort of hid in the back, trying to stay out of the way," he says, "but I really liked it. The music, the bikes, the intense exercise -- you really get a great workout." For these Reds, the hard work has just begun.

Issue date: March 26, 2001


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