Saturday, March 23, 2002

Fan favorite Rijo makes team

Relieved Rijo set to join bullpen; Etherton on DL

By John Fay,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SARASOTA, Fla. — Jose Rijo turned to the crowd in the box seats at Ed Smith Stadium and gave them the good news:

        “I made the team today,” Rijo said.

        The fans loved it. Rijo may have the most cut-upon elbow in baseball, but he also has one of the biggest hearts. That's how he made the Reds.

        “It shows all the hard work I've done,” he said.

        The Reds made it official Friday by putting Seth Etherton on the 60-day disabled list and purchasing Rijo's contract.

        “I'm drinking Dom Perignon tonight,” Rijo said. “I deserve it. One bottle. I got to pitch tomorrow.”

        Rijo, a 36-year-old right-hander, returned to the majors last season after five arm surgeries and six years away. He retired 20 batters in a row at one point this spring.

        “Jose pitched his way on the team,” Reds general manager Jim Bowden said. “With a young team, it's important to have good leaders with good work ethics like Jose. But he earned a spot. He has a 90-plus fastball and that great slider.”

        Adding Rijo to the team clarifies the roster.

        Basically, 24 of the 25 spots are accounted for, including 11 pitchers. Putting Rijo on the team doesn't mean the Reds are going to carry 12 pitchers.

        “Not necessarily,” Reds manager Bob Boone said. He added that Rijo is ready to pitch on back-to-back days right now.

        If the Reds do carry 12 pitchers, Luis Pineda, Hector Mercado or John Riedling (if he's healthy) will get the 12th spot. If the Reds go with 11 pitchers, either Ruben Mateo or Gookie Dawkins will be the 14th position player. Barry Larkin's health plays into that. If the Reds are concerned, Dawkins will make the team.

        “Those decisions are going to come right down to the wire,” Boone said.

        The roster is likely to remain in flux. Lance Davis, Jose Silva and Etherton begin the year on the DL. Riedling could also. Silva, Davis and Riedling will be ready by mid-April.

        “The pressure Jose talked about is just starting to build,” Boone said.

        Rijo dealt with the pressure of making the team all spring. That's why Friday was so sweet.

        Boone told Rijo in the third inning of Friday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

        “I said, "Why you make me wait so long?'” Rijo said. “That's the most nervous I've ever been.”


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