Sunday, March 26, 2000

Neagle struggles again

Starter blames mechanics, concentration

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Denny Neagle again insisted success was around the corner, but with Opening Day eight days away, he can't afford more detours.

        Neagle allowed six runs and seven hits in five innings Saturday as the Reds beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 9-6 at Florida Power Park.

        Neagle, who is expected to be the No.2 starter, allowed two home runs to hike his team-high total to six. His ERA rose to 8.10. He has only one more spring training start, Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

        “He hasn't had his command all spring,” manager Jack McKeon said. “He's got to get it together quickly — sharpen up.”

        Neagle again cited flawed pitching mechanics as the source of his trouble.

        He said when he pitches from the stretch position, he's caught between trying to accelerate his motion to hold runners close and keeping his delivery smooth.

        “There's a fine line between trying to go too quickly and being too deliberate,” pitching coach Don Gullett said.

        Neagle, who had shoulder problems last season, said his struggles aren't physical. He threw 97 pitches, the equivalent of a full game.

        “Physically, I feel great,” Neagle said. “I feel like I'm getting stronger and stronger with each outing.”

        The second-inning fastball Mike DiFelice hit over the left-field wall was estimated by one American League scout at 85 mph, five mph slower than what is considered average. DiFelice, who entered the game batting .192 with no homers and two RBI, turned it into three runs.

        One out later, Neagle surrendered a homer to Miguel Cairo, who began the game hitting .182. Cairo has only eight homers in 1,036 regular-season at-bats.

        “I feel like it wasn't there on every pitch,” said Neagle, adding that when he faced DiFelice, he was dwelling on a bad change-up that Greg Vaughn hit for a leadoff double and a walk to Jose Guillen that preceded the homer.

        “The next thing I know I'm throwing a pitch without focusing on it,” Neagle said. “Part of my success is that I bear down on every pitch. That's one of the things I'm more ticked off about than anything.

        “I gave (DiFelice) a nice, fat fastball that was up. Part of that is mechanical, but I'd rather do that knowing I threw it with conviction instead of making both a physical and mental mistake.”

        One positive development was the effectiveness of Neagle's curveball, which produced most of his six strikeouts. Usually, he said, it's his fourth-best pitch.

        “It kept me from giving up 10 or 11 runs,” said Neagle, maintaining his sense of humor. “If I had mixed it in a little bit more, I might have had a little better chance of being successful.”

        Neagle said backing off two- a-day workouts for his shoulder should help him rebound, but he knew a promising effort on Thursday would be the best lift of all.

        “I've been around long enough not to press,” the ninth-year veteran said. “I know things are getting better. I feel good physically. Everything's pretty much coming together the way I want it to, but I'm a competitor. I don't like giving up five or six runs every outing.”


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