Friday, January 29, 1999

Neagle: Don't call me the ace

Says Harnisch, Tomko deserve equal billing

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Denny Neagle
        Having won 16 games last year and 20 two seasons ago with Atlanta, Denny Neagle ought to assume the role as Reds staff ace without a hitch.

        Pete Harnisch won two-thirds of his decisions in 1998 (14-7) and provides leadership that extends from the diamond to the clubhouse. He's an ace if there ever was one.

        Brett Tomko is coming off a season in which he led Cincinnati in starts (34), innings pitched (210) and strikeouts (162). Nearly six decades have passed since a Reds right-hander won more games in his first two seasons than Tomko's 24. Now there's an ace.

        Fortunately for the Reds, the label of No. 1 pitcher appears to be backed with Velcro, something that can be shared and applied to more than one pitcher. For teams without a Roger Clemens or Kevin Brown, identifying an ace is less important than trying to pitch like one.

        This shared-status concept was embraced Thursday as the Reds introduced Neagle and Steve Avery, their left-handers acquired this offseason, to local reporters at a luncheon.

        “The way I look at it is, all of us are No. 1 starters and we all handle the burden at some point,” said Neagle, obtained in the Bret Boone trade Nov. 10.

        “Especially if we get to the postseason. When it's your time to pitch, you're the No. 1 starter that night. As far as whether I'm labeled the No. 1 or No. 4 starter, my approach never changes. I feel like every game I pitch is the most important game, no matter if I'm pitching against a kid who just got called up or if I'm pitching against Greg Maddux or Roger Clemens.”

        Manager Jack McKeon endorsed Neagle's attitude.

        “I think he hit it right,” said McKeon, indicating that his selection of an Opening Day starter to face the San Francisco Giants on April 5 will depend partly on spring-training performance.

        “You could say Tomko, Harnisch or Neagle could be your No. 1. Now, who's going to pitch Opening Day, I can't tell you. You've got a 162-game schedule. Someone has to pitch that first game.”

        With Atlanta, Neagle swapped the ace's mantle with Cy Young Award winners Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

        “I look at it the same way here,” said Neagle, who finished 16-11 with a 3.55 ERA for the Braves a year ago. “Just because I've had some good seasons lately, that doesn't mean I should be labeled the No. 1 pitcher here.

        “I think we need to take the same philosophy that every one of is as important as the other. I don't care if you're the No. 1 or 5 pitcher. You can label the rotation The Tremendous Threesome, Fabulous Foursome, whatever, but if one starter breaks down, it's going to affect the whole team.”

        Neagle called the Reds' staff as worthy as any in the National League, “including Atlanta's.” That might not be the case if he exercises his right to demand a trade, which Neagle — as a veteran traded in the middle of a multiyear contract — can do.

        But Neagle insisted that he's not anticipating that option.

        “Hopefully I can sign longterm here,” the eight-year veteran said. “The only thing I've said from the beginning is, I want to win. That's what it's all about. If we keep the right nucleus here and hopefully increase payroll and add more guys to the pieces of the puzzle, I'd be all for staying here.”


        HOT STOVE: The Reds have offered a contract to free-agent shortstop Pat Meares, though General Manager Jim Bowden said that signing the six-year veteran was unlikely. Meares is unlikely to accept the utility role he would play on the Reds. Desperate to trim its payroll, Minnesota declined to offer a contract to Meares, who hit .260 last year with nine homers and 70 RBI.

        BOONE MVP: The Cincinnati chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America selected Boone as the Reds' 1998 Most Valuable Player at its Thursday meeting.

        Boone hit .266 with a team-high 24 homers and 95 RBI while winning his first Gold Glove and making the All-Star team.

        Harnisch was voted the team's outstanding pitcher, and catcher Eddie Taubensee received the chapter's Good Guy Award.

        Also, Sparky Anderson was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as manager from 1970-78.

        Anderson, who steered the club to four pennants and World Series triumphs in 1975 and 1976, is the franchise's all-time leader in victories (863) and winning percentage (.596).


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