Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Acevedo learns the hard way




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        The hitters are meeting in the manager's office. The pitchers, most of them, have congregated in the players lounge.

        Jose Acevedo walks through the Reds clubhouse Tuesday evening and finds only one chair occupied: his own. Jose Rijo has stolen his protoge's seat, where he holds court and distributes cigars. He is waiting for Acevedo, to dispense wisdom and dispel doubt.

        “We've been talking every time before he pitches,” Rijo said. “He feels more comfortable when I'm on the bench. When I'm calling the pitches, he hasn't made a mistake yet.”

        As Rijo talks, the clubhouse clock reads 5:50 p.m. Four hours later, Jose Acevedo has made enough mistakes to merit demotion to Louisville. He finishes the night having secured five outs, allowed four home runs and earned a one-way ticket to Triple-A. After the Reds' 8-3 loss to Houston, management is no longer in a nurturing mood.

        “You have to be able to put the ball where you want to when you want to,” Reds manager Bob Boone said, sternly. “That's pitching in the big leagues. If you can't do that, you'd better have great stuff.”

Subtleties still lacking

        Jose Acevedo has decent stuff and dreadful location. Jose Rijo is happy to help out, but he cannot throw the ball for him. He cannot communicate a career full of knowledge between pitches or between innings. When a young pitcher walks to the mound, he's ultimately out there on his own.

        Jose Acevedo had one of those painful rites of passage Tuesday night, and there was nothing Jose Rijo could do for him except trot in from the bullpen as second-inning long relief. Twice in two innings, Acevedo allowed successive home runs to the Astros — both times involving Lance Berkman — and the 24-year-old right-hander left the mound on the short end of a 7-0 score.

        It was one of those nights Acevedo will remember when he has forgotten how to tie his shoes. He had started the evening with two victories in two starts, ending it with an ERA of 8.53.

        “He got himself in position quite a lot tonight and couldn't make pitches,” Boone said.

        With better breaks, Acevedo might have escaped Houston's first inning unscathed. Reds shortstop Barry Larkin went far to his right to field Craig Biggio's leadoff grounder, but he was unable to put anything on his throw. With one out, Acevedo got two quick strikes on Jeff Bagwell, but his 1-2 fastball failed to persuade plate umpire Bill Miller.

        Bagwell walked. Berkman homered. Disaster dawned.

Couldn't keep his cool

               “That's a strikeout,” Acevedo insisted later of the pitch to Bagwell. “But the umpire called a ball ... When I get a strikeout, you're supposed to get a strikeout. But he (Miller) is the boss of the game.”

        The difference between a veteran pitcher and a young pitcher is often the ability to deal with adversity.

        Whether Jose Acevedo lost his composure is speculative, but he clearly lost his control. And his job.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.

       



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