Friday, March 03, 2000


Bench impressed by LaRue

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jason LaRue
        SARASOTA, Fla. — When the Seattle Mariners wanted to obtain Jason LaRue in the Ken Griffey Jr. trade, a Reds employee who's an expert on catching called Cincinnati General Manager Jim Bowden with some advice: Keep LaRue at all costs.

        That team official was Johnny Bench, the Hall of Fame catcher and Reds legend who's among Bowden's stable of special assistants.

        The Reds hope that LaRue, 25, can anchor their catching for years to come. Bench felt compelled to remind them of this.

        “You can't afford to give up Jason,” Bench said Thursday, the second day of his annual visit to training camp. “I like his makeup. The organization isn't deep by any stretch of the imagination (with catchers). And he does a good job with the pitchers. ... He pretty much understands game-calling and the reaction by pitchers.”

        Bowden has insisted that veteran Benito Santiago was acquired for insurance if Eddie Taubensee or LaRue is injured in camp. But Bench thinks that Santiago's presence has helped motivate LaRue.

        “Because you never know,” Bench said. “You're a young kid, you've been given a chance, you're not sure what the front office or management thinks. Nobody's going to work harder than he does.”

        DOTTED LINE: The Reds have signed all their players, though they automatically renewed the contracts of four key performers — first baseman Sean Casey, third baseman Aaron Boone and relievers Danny Graves and Scott Williamson — which sometimes bruises feelings. LaRue and left-hander Heath Murray agreed to terms.

        None of the players whose contracts were renewed were eligible for salary arbitration, leaving club management with virtually all the bargaining leverage. Casey and Graves received $400,000, while Boone and Williamson got $300,000 apiece.

        “I really wasn't worried about it,” Casey said. “I'm just ready to start playing. It's not that big a deal.”

        “They have their (salary) structure that they go by, and I understand that,” Graves said. “We talked this morning, and I think they understand where I'm coming from as well. There's no hard feelings at all. It's just the business part of baseball, and I understand that completely. So it was actually a good thing that I went in there and renewed.”

        All four received raises. Graves earned $260,000 last year, Casey $220,000, Boone $210,000 and Williamson $200,000, the rookie minimum. Williamson, the NL's Rookie of the Year, fared better than Texas reliever Jeff Zimmerman, another outstanding rookie, who received $250,000.

        “I just have to be patient,” said Graves, who might as well have been speaking for the others. “If I stay healthy and continue to do what I'm capable of doing, I'll get paid later on.”

        INTRASQUAD DETAILS: A team managed by Triple-A manager Dave Miley and bolstered by most of the projected Opening Day lineup defeated a group managed by Triple-A coach Phil Wellman 13-6.

        For the second day in a row, 15 different pitchers threw one inning apiece. The roughest outing was suffered by left-hander Adrian Burnside, a Rule 5 selection from Los Angeles, who coughed up six fourth-inning runs. Aaron Boone and Brooks Kieschnick each belted two-run homers; Dante Bichette also homered.

        “He has a good arm — there's no question about that. It's just one of those days,” manager Jack McKeon said of Burnside.

        McKeon's forgiveness spread to other players.

        “There are some obvious guys who aren't going to be a factor,” he said. “But we'll have to look at some of these guys two or three times. We're not going to bury anybody because they gave up a couple of runs or walked a couple of guys in these games.”

        Guillermo Garcia, Alex Ochoa, Pat Watkins and David Toth homered later in the game.

        ETC.: Dominican pitcher Willis Roberts, whose arrival was delayed by visa problems, finally reported to camp Wednesday and worked out Thursday. Said McKeon, “I'd say he's a little behind, wouldn't you?”


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