By Joe Kay
The Associated Press
Brawny Adam Dunn batting leadoff. Closer Danny Graves throwing the first pitch. Third baseman Aaron Boone playing the other side of the infield.
Faced with holes in the batting order, rotation and lineup, Cincinnati Reds manager Bob Boone is letting his mind run wild. Spring training will become his test tube.
A lot of familiar names could be in awfully unfamiliar roles when the Reds open their first season in Great American Ball Park on March 31.
"Hopefully, we are going to complement that new stadium," Bob Boone said. "We think we have the pieces in place."
The problem is that Bob Boone isn't sure how the pieces fit. When the Reds start their spring training schedule later this month, he won't be shy about trying new things.
For instance, Dunn will bat first, even though the 6-foot-6, 240-pound outfielder doesn't look or swing anything like a leadoff batter.
Bob Boone likes Dunn's .400 on-base percentage last season, second-best in the lineup, and plans to let him compete with shortstop Barry Larkin for the top spot.
"He will be the biggest leadoff hitter of all time," Bob Boone mused. "I've always felt that the position of leadoff hitter has to do with on-base percentage and the ability to drive in a run that we've just bunted over. Because of our limited pool of candidates, it's going to be Barry Larkin or Adam Dunn."
Dunn, 23, hit 26 homers last season, set a franchise record with 170 strikeouts and was third in the NL with 128 walks. He also made a lot of bad decisions on the bases, often breaking too soon on a steal attempt. He stole 19 bases and was caught nine times.
Nonetheless, Bob Boone is willing to let him try the top of the order.
"We're going to see how it plays out," he said.
Bob Boone's decision to move his son to second base is less surprising. Aaron Boone demonstrated last season that he could play shortstop as Larkin's fill-in, and doesn't mind filling the position that opened up when Todd Walker was traded to Boston.
Third base goes to Brandon Larson, who played in 23 games last season after his first promotion to the majors. Larson, a first-round draft pick in 1997, started working out at second base in the offseason after Walker was traded.
Last month, the Reds told him he would get a chance to play third, his natural position, while Aaron Boone tried to learn second base.
"It's just been a whirlwind offseason for me, a roller coaster," Larson said. "It's a testimony to the kind of person that Aaron is that he's willing to go over and try it. He's really helped the team out. If anybody can handle that change, I think it's him."
To try to strengthen a rotation that will be the team's biggest question, Bob Boone is turning his only proven closer into a starter. Graves matched his career high with 32 saves last season, his fourth straight with 27 or more.
Unable to afford a top free agent pitcher or to develop one through the farm system, the Reds are trying to piece together a rotation that will feature Graves, Jimmy Haynes, Ryan Dempster and Paul Wilson.
Graves started four games at the end of last season, the start of the closer-to-starter experiment that could backfire.
"There is some risk in moving Danny Graves, and we understand that," Bob Boone said. "I think he has the capability of being an even better starter than he was a closer."
Scott Williamson becomes the closer less than two full years after reconstructive elbow surgery. In his first season back, he went 3-4 with a 2.92 ERA and eight saves, getting stronger as 2002 went along.
"Over the last month or so, he was like nails as a closer," pitching coach Don Gullett said. "That's one of the reasons we're converting Danny Graves to starter."
According to the Boston Globe, Major League Baseball will not mediate the dispute between Red Sox aspirant Kevin Millar and the Chunichi Dragons, reiterating its position that Millar has a contract with the Japanese team and must honor it.
Millar signed a letter agreement with the Florida Marlins, the team that sold him to Chunichi for $1.2 million, saying he would reject any waiver claim made by another major-league club. The Red Sox claimed him and Millar rejected that claim, but then Millar attempted to sign with Boston, claiming he was a free agent.
Ted Turner's old company would be happy to sell him back his old baseball team, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
AOL Time Warner said it will consider unloading the Braves, along with the NBA's Hawks and NHL's Thrashers, to pay down the company's heavy debt.
"I've heard rumors (about Turner's possible interest), but I have not heard from him directly, nor have I heard from my management that he has expressed interest in any of the teams," Turner Broadcasting System chairman Jamie Kellner said. "I'd welcome it. He'd be great."
Turner hasn't been available for comment.
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