Tuesday, August 07, 2001

Winning surge adds reason to Reds' season

Streak builds confidence for 2002

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Reds' recent surge has done more than restore some of their respectability. It has given them relevance for the rest of this season and focus for the next one.

        Winning eight of their last nine games and 11 of their 15 since July 20 propels them into a stretch of 40 games in 41 days. They'll begin it tonight with the opener of a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants, who are one game out of first place in the National League West.

        This portion of the schedule, which includes series with all five Central Division rivals, gives Cincinnati the chance to play the spoiler role it suddenly relishes. During last week's seven-game winning streak, the Reds all but ended Florida's flickering postseason hopes and slowed first-place Los Angeles' momentum in the NL West race.

        Whether the Reds (46-64) can continue to improve is impossible to predict. Their resolve is more reliable.

        “I think the feeling's different in here now,” first baseman Sean Casey said. “We're going to beat some teams down the stretch. You don't come play the Reds anymore and guarantee yourself a couple of wins.”

        Said manager Bob Boone, “I think we're looking forward to matching this team against those teams that kind of beat us around. It'll be a good barometer for us to see, "What are we?' We truly believe we're better than what our record is.”

        The Reds also can begin addressing concerns for 2002.

        Already, spirited competition for spots in the starting rotation has developed. The current group of Lance Davis, Elmer Dessens, Jim Brower, Chris Reitsma and Jose Acevedo, who have pitched well in spurts, will be pushed by knuckleballer Jared Fernandez, left-hander Dennys Reyes and right-hander Scott Winchester, who have shown promise at Triple-A Louisville. Pete Harnisch also will be a factor if the veteran's elbow heals and he re-signs with Cincinnati for next season.

        “I just think consistency from here on out is the biggest key,” relief ace Danny Graves said. “All the young guys in the rotation are finally getting comfortable enough to where they can just go out and pitch instead of having that feeling of, "I have to be perfect so I don't get sent down.'”

        The Reds' rise has given them a much-needed boost of self-esteem. Even if they level off and play .500 ball the rest of the season, it will build optimism for next spring.

        “We've shown signs that this isn't really a hot streak,” Boone said. “This is what we've kind of expected out of spring training.”

        Cincinnati's uprising has coincided with the arrival of Todd Walker and exciting rookie Adam Dunn. But the rest of the offense has been galvanized. Casey's hitting .404 in his last 14 games, Ken Griffey Jr. .323 in his last 15. Dmitri Young has eight RBI in his last five games. Aaron Boone has hit .320 since leaving the disabled list June 15. Pokey Reese is batting .304 during a seven-game hitting streak.

        Before Sunday's 10-9 victory at San Diego, Reds pitchers compiled a 2.71 ERA over an eight-game stretch.

        “There have been a lot of times when they could have packed it in,” Bob Boone said. “They've given the intensity. It's really nothing I've done. It's just in them.”

        Building competitiveness won't necessarily force the Reds to add capital to their payroll, although it probably will rise anyway.

        The arbitration process has diminished the impact of “salary drives,” those late-season pushes players launch to improve their statistics and bargaining power. Since merely filing for arbitration virtually guarantees huge raises regardless of performance, Reds management already knows it must pay dearly to keep arbitration-eligible players such as Casey, Graves, Reese and Young. First-time arbitration-eligible performers such as Aaron Boone and Elmer Dessens also should receive big raises.

        But several key Reds, including Griffey, Barry Larkin, Scott Sullivan and Walker already are signed beyond next year. Others, such as Jason LaRue and Reitsma, aren't eligible for arbitration, meaning their pay hikes will be nominal.


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