Saturday, March 18, 2000

Reds wrestle with Reyes' role

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT MYERS, Fla. — Dennys Reyes' skills are beyond question. His role, however, may remain a subject of debate as long as he's a Red.

        Reyes established himself as one of the National League's best left-handed set-up relievers in his first full major-league season last year. Yet many team officials, including General Manager Jim Bowden, insist that Reyes could be just as effective, if not more so, in the starting rotation where he began his professional career.

        This difference of opinion, which arose last year, has again become topical as the Reds look for a fifth starter — while hoping that the other four, Pete Harnisch, Denny Neagle, Steve Parris and Ron Villone, stay healthy and effective. Reds starters haven't been the latter this spring, as Friday's 6-3 exhibition loss to Boston kept their ERA in the last six games at 9.00.

        “You can never say never,” manager Jack McKeon said of Reyes' future as a starter. “But I think he has found his niche here, as far as we're concerned. We were looking for a left-handed reliever to come in and strike somebody out and we think we've got him.”

        In Reyes, the Reds have one of the few relievers who fits that description. Excepting closers such as Atlanta's John Rocker and Houston's Billy Wagner, only six NL lefties with more than 50 appearances recorded ERAs under 4.00 last season — Reyes (3.79), Arizona's Greg Swindell (2.51), San Francisco's Alan Embree (3.38), Montreal's Steve Kline (3.75), New York's Dennis Cook (3.86) and Pittsburgh's Scott Sauerbeck (2.00), a former Northwest High and Miami University standout.

        Of that group, Reyes had the best strikeouts-to-innings pitched ratio. He had 72 strikeouts in 61 innings while finishing 2-2 with two saves.

        Reyes' ERA was deceptively high. He allowed six earned runs in 2 innings in a July 28 start at Los Angeles. Until Sept. 3, his 1.69 relief ERA was the league's best.

        “He is one of the few left-handers in the league that can get Barry Bonds, Larry Walker and Ray Lankford out in big games,” Bowden said.

        Still, Bowden is among those who wonder whether the Reds might be better served with Reyes in the rotation.

        “I personally have always felt that if he were a starter, he could win 12 to 15 games,” Bowden said. “But we have a lot of conflicting opinions in the organization. I think the one thing we're all unanimous on is that as a situational lefty (reliever), he can be one of the best in the league.”

        Reyes, who turns 23 on April 19, will do whatever he's asked.

        “Last year, relieving was a little difficult in the spring, because I wasn't used to it,” said Reyes, recalling his conversion to the bullpen. “But I'm happy now. My goal was to make it to the big leagues; I'm here now. Any way I can help this team I'm going to try to do it.”

        Reyes suffered shoulder tendinitis as workouts began last month, preventing him from throwing off a mound until March 3. Three days later in his exhibition debut against Pittsburgh, he allowed six runs in one inning. Since then, Reyes has surrendered only one hit and one walk in 4 innings while striking out five.

        It's easy to see how Reyes succeeds — and why many believe he could sustain his effectiveness for many innings at a time.

        He hides the ball throughout most of his delivery, taxing a hitter's ability to pick up each pitch. This makes it easier for Reyes to mix velocity with deception. He's equally effective against left-handed hitters (.242 opponents' batting average) and righties (.226).

        When Reyes errs, it's usually not out of carelessness.

        “He really doesn't "hang' too many pitches,” catcher Eddie Taubensee said. “Sliders, curveballs, everything's pretty much down. When you see him miss, most of the time it's down and around in the dirt.”

        To accomplish this, Reyes follows a simple formula.

        “I put everything I can into every pitch,” he said. “I don't throw any ball without reason. And everything has gone well.”

        For now, the Reds will leave well enough alone.


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