Sunday, August 27, 2000


LaRue making pitchers better

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIAMI — Jason LaRue's status continues to rise as the pitchers' earned run average continues to shrink.

        The Reds began Saturday with a 4.41 team ERA, sixth-best in the league and their lowest since the second game of the season. A primary source of this improvement is LaRue, who caught his third shutout in 14 starts Friday night in Cincinnati's series-opening 6-0 victory over the Florida Marlins. The Reds have only four shutouts in their 114 other games.

        The statistical evidence of LaRue's impact doesn't end there. Entering Saturday, Reds pitchers have recorded a 2.79 ERA when he's behind the plate, compared to 4.44 with Benito Santiago and 4.71 with Eddie Taubensee.

        This maintains a trend LaRue established as a rookie last year. His 3.81 “catcher's ERA” compared favorably with Taubensee's 3.78 and eclipsed Brian Johnson's 4.93.

        With a .156 batting average in 14 games, LaRue is still developing his offensive skills. But as long as he plays well defensively, staying employed shouldn't be a problem. Though LaRue began the season with Triple-A Louisville, he may never see the minor leagues again at the current rate.

        “He follows Gully's game plan pretty closely,” Reds manager Jack McKeon said of LaRue, referring to pitching coach Don Gullett's supervision. “When (LaRue) needs guidance, he looks over.”

Alex Ochoa in his HR trot Friday night.
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        HOMETOWN HERO: When Alex Ochoa raised his right arm as he rounded second base after hitting his ninth-inning homer Friday, he wasn't showboating or trying to embarrass the Marlins. Rather, he was waving to more than 40 relatives and friends who were his guests in the grandstand.

        Ochoa, a 1991 graduate of Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School who still lives near here in the offseason, still feels the thrill of performing before loved ones yet no longer senses the pressure.

        “It never gets old,” he said. “It's always exciting, especially when you win and do something good. But after a while, you stop trying to impress people. You just go out and play your game.”

        Ochoa left a whopping 46 tickets for his biggest fans Saturday.

        “It's fun — and sometimes it's hectic,” he said. “It's funny. I left a lot of tickets, but there are so many more people I could leave tickets for. But I can't leave 150 tickets.”

        BICHETTE SITS AGAIN: McKeon insisted that Dante Bichette wasn't in the doghouse, though the right fielder was on the bench again.

        McKeon wanted to give Bichette another day to refresh himself. The cleanup hitter has gone 106 at-bats without a homer. Bichette, whose streak of 39 consecutive starts ended Friday, collected an RBI late that night as a pinch hitter when he grounded into an eighth-inning fielder's choice.

        “Once he gets back in there, he'll play pretty regularly,” McKeon said.

        Ochoa replaced Bichette in right field while Brian Hunter received his fourth start of the year in left field. With left-hander Jesus Sanchez starting for Florida, switch hitter Dmitri Young moved to first base while left-handed-batting Sean Casey was benched.

        “I want to get my "rabbits' in there,” McKeon said, jokingly referring to Hunter and Ochoa.

        PEREZ HONORED: Pro Player Stadium sounded a lot like Cinergy Field during the pregame ceremony honoring Hall of Famer Tony Perez, now a Marlins official. The event marked the centerpiece of the Marlins' “Tony Perez Weekend.”

        Big Red Machine stalwarts such as Dave Concepcion, George Foster and Cesar Geronimo drew noisy applause, and Ken Griffey Sr. and Johnny Bench received standing ovations.

        Pete Rose's popularity obviously is strong in Florida. When Bench, who introduced Perez, mentioned Rose's name, fans cheered and yelled “Pete!” to support the absent Rose.

        ACTORS ON DECK: Ochoa and shortstop Barry Larkin said they were told that the episode of ARLI$$ they taped in May will be shown on HBO next week.

        “They made it the season finale because they said it was hilarious,” Ochoa said.

        UP NEXT: Rob Bell (5-7) will make his third start of the season against the Mar lins in today's series finale. He received no decision in both his previous outings against them. Bell will oppose Ryan Dempster (11-9), Florida's leading winner. Dempster is 3-0 with a 2.77 ERA lifetime against Cincinnati, including 2-0, 1.15 this year.

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