Saturday, March 18, 2000

Starters' struggles cause for alarm?


REDS NOTEBOOK

BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT MYERS, Fla. — Though exhibition results are relatively meaningless, it's impossible to overlook that the Reds' starting pitching has been dreadful lately.

        Yet Jack McKeon, like any seasoned manager, remained calm Friday as Ron Villone yielded five runs in five innings in Cincinnati's 6-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

        Villone's effort kept the starters' ERA in the last six games at an even 9.00. In that span, they've allowed 27 earned runs and 46 hits in 27 innings while walking 10 and striking out 16.

        “You'd like to see them sharper than they are right now,” McKeon said. “But you have to understand that there's still two weeks to go and everybody's going to get out there probably a couple of more times.”

        McKeon pointed out that the worst months for judging players are March, when veterans are merely trying to refine their skills, and September, when lineups are peppered with minor-league call-ups. It's always essential, said McKeon, to consider a player's experience much more seriously than his spring-training performance.

        “Once the season starts,” said McKeon, “the adrenaline flows and it's a different tempo.”

        SOUTHEAST STUFF: McKeon saw positive and negative aspects to the proposed divisional realignment that would put the Reds in a Southeast foursome with Atlanta, Florida and Tampa Bay — all located within the Eastern time zone.

        McKeon noted that the Reds would lose potential rivalries against Chicago and St. Louis, who are likely to remain in the Central. He also pointed out the competitive advantage: “Now you're taking two of those power hitters (St. Louis' Mark McGwire and Chicago's Sammy Sosa) out of our division.”

        Perennial contender Atlanta would remain a formidable presence. “They're coming back (to the pack) a bit because they're getting older,” McKeon said. “But they do a good job, year to year, of picking up guys.” Florida, said McKeon, “is a young club that's getting better.” Tampa Bay, switching from the AL, would be a mostly unknown quantity, though top hitters are Vinny Castilla, Fred McGriff and Greg Vaughn are ex-NL players.

        A remote possibility exists that the Reds could remain in the Central, with Houston moving to the Southeast. But Astros management would prefer to stay put. Nothing's final until club owners meet April 18.

        GREAT GATE: Friday's crowd of 7,132 at City of Palms Park was the third sell out in a row for the Reds — one at home and two away. The St. Patrick's Day audience matched Boston's second largest in stadium history, equaling a March 8 gathering when the New York Yankees visited and trailing only a crowd of 7,139 on Tuesday against Toronto.

        Cincinnati has played before packed houses in seven of its last nine games and might be headed for three more in a row today at home against Philadelphia, Sunday at the New York Yankees' Tampa palace and Monday night at home against Texas.

        ETC.: To get work, relievers Gabe White threw 53 pitches in four innings and Scott Williamson 42 in two innings in minor-league games in Sarasota.

       



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