Friday, June 16, 2000

Neagle: Reds' woes start with starters


No major roster changes expected soon

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SAN DIEGO — Though the Reds desperately need to get their pitching and hitting in sync with each other, improving both instantly and simultaneously might be a little too much to ask.

        If they could choose one element to develop first, it would be pitching. Starting pitching, to be precise.

        With a 1-5 record on their current road trip and eight losses in their last nine games, the Reds (32-32) hope they can reverse their fortunes as they begin a three-game series tonight against the San Diego Padres at Qualcomm Stadium.

        Cincinnati can't survive with its recent offensive production. The team has hit a meager .234 while averaging slightly less than four runs in the last seven games.

        The Reds have faced instant deficits all too frequently during their tailspin. In 10 games since Denny Neagle lasted seven innings in a 9-3 victory over Minnesota on June 3, starting pitchers have compiled an 0-7 record with a 6.97 ERA.

        Opponents have assumed quick, sizable leads in five of those games (7-0, 6-3, 3-0, 5-1 and 3-1) before they were halfway complete. The Reds' 21 come-from-behind victories reflect their skill at overcoming deficits. But no team can replicate this magic daily.

        “It starts with us,” Neagle said. “I put us in some holes these last cou ple of starts and some of the other guys have, too. Together, we starters can say, "Let's try to change this by ourselves.' If we lose 2-1, so be it. Let's take it upon ourselves to get us back on track and hopefully the other guys can feed off it from there.”

        The starters haven't been completely ineffective. They've worked less than six innings only three times during the aforementioned 10-game stretch. But overall, the rotation has lacked the durability and assertiveness that successful teams have.

        Even by today's bullpen-dominant standards, the Reds' starters have literally fallen short. They've worked seven innings or more only 14 times. Only four times have they lasted that long in back-to-back games; never have they managed this for three consecutive games.

        The Reds, San Diego and Kansas City are the only teams in the majors without a complete game from a starting pitcher.

        “One of the things I've been (angry) at myself about is, I want to start throwing some complete games,” said Neagle. “I feel as strong as I'm going to feel. There's no excuse for why I shouldn't be getting into the eighth or ninth inning of some of these games and taking more of a load off the bullpen so we can play the game the way we're supposed to.”

        Though the starting pitchers are prime candidates to lead a resurgence, few other Reds have excelled. Leadoff hitter Pokey Reese is 3-for-22 in his last five games. Barry Larkin was 0-for-12 before homering in the eighth inning of Wednesday's 6-2 loss at San Francisco that sealed the Giants' three-game sweep. Ken Griffey Jr. was 1-for-8 with four walks and three strikeouts in the Giants series.

        Eddie Taubensee (14 RBI) and Sean Casey (.227) have fallen short of their 1999 production. The team has hit a limp .239 with runners in scoring position.

        The Reds have consistently played just well enough to lose.

        “That's what happens when you struggle. And we're definitely struggling,” Larkin said. “There's nothing blatant. I could see if it was a matter of lackadaisical play or not being disciplined. But that's not the case, at least from my vantage point.”

        The Reds don't appear to be poised for a huge roster shakeup — at least not right away.

        A source familiar with the meeting General Manager Jim Bowden conducted Thursday with manager Jack McKeon and his coaching staff said that though the state of the club was discussed, emphasis was placed on possible upcoming roster scenarios rather than the team's current slump.

       



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