Monday, May 03, 1999

No bite has Reds barking


Vaughn tells team to stop making excuses

BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Barry Larkin studies Braves pitcher Odalis Perez Sunday.
(AP photo)

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        ATLANTA — The Reds were two different teams on their 2-4 road trip that ended with Sunday's 5-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Greg Vaughn particularly didn't like the one that lost three games in a row here at Turner Field.

        So before the Reds groomed themselves for their charter flight to Cincinnati, Vaughn gave teammates his own cold shower, calling a players-only meeting to motivate them toward improvement.

        “We have to believe we can win it, quit making excuses and take responsibility,” said Vaughn, whose 10 years of major-league experience, capped by last year's 50-homer season with the National League pennant-winning San Diego Padres, gave him a pedestal. “We have to find a way. If we don't find a way, it's going to be a long year.

        “We are horse(bleep) right now. As a team, we are bad. So, let's find out and turn it around ... We're too good of a club to play the way we've been playing. Maybe I'm just psycho, (but) that's my opinion.”

        Aware of his .203 batting average, Vaughn didn't spare himself from criticism.

        “All of this is me included,” he said.

        Though numerous Reds approached Vaughn for follow-up chats once reporters were allowed in the clubhouse, he apparently did most or all of the talking in the meeting, which lasted about eight minutes.

        “Everybody had the opportunity to say something,” Vaughn said. “I guess they liked what I said.”

        Manager Jack McKeon welcomed the session.

        “At least they're concerned,” he said. “They're the ones on the stage. I'm glad they're concerned. We're all concerned.”

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Hal Morris isn't happy striking out in the sevent inning.
(AP photo)

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        The Reds (9-14), who occupy last place in the NL Central, begin a two-week, 11-game homestand tonight. Maybe staying put for a prolonged period will help them establish just what kind of team they're going to be.

        Because their road trip was inconclusive, at best.

        The Reds looked overmatched against the Braves, who are polished enough to dominate any team. While Atlanta always seems consistent, Cincinnati ranged from one extreme to the other.

        In the Reds' four defeats, they batted .121 (15-for-124). They were especially powerless against the Braves, hitting .109 (10-for-92) with 26 strikeouts as their major league-low batting average dipped to .236.

        They also appeared formidable in their pair of victories, scoring a total of 19 runs while amassing 13 hits each night.

        Sunday, Cincinnati's tormentor was impressive rookie left-hander Odalis Perez (1-1), who earned his first major-league victory by allowing three runs (two earned) and five hits in 5 innings.

        He had no trouble outperforming Denny Neagle, who permitted four runs and seven hits in 2 innings — his shortest start since he surrendered six earned runs in one-third of an inning on July 15, 1994, against Houston.

        Neagle (0-1) refused to hide behind the fact that he was making only his third appearance since recovering from a weakened shoulder.

        “I knew it was going to take some time for me to get my stuff and my location back. But that's embarrassing,” Neagle said. “... I know I'm going to turn it around. I know I'm a lot better pitcher than this, and I'm not going to push the panic button. But these guys got me to pitch quality games for them, and I'm letting them down.”

        Neagle also denied that facing the Braves, who traded him to Cincinnati last Nov. 10, affected his concentration.

        “It didn't matter which team I was facing,” said Neagle, who received respectful applause from the audience of 42,036 upon being relieved. “Today was a struggle all the way around. Even when I made good pitches, they hit them.”

        Obviously, he already endorsed Vaughn's no-excuses, take-responsibility policy.

       



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