Sunday, March 16, 2003

Dempster keeps coming up aces

Reds notebook: Right-hander goes 6 scoreless innings against Minnesota

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Ryan Dempster is proving how effective accentuating the positive can be.

"Last year, I focused on the negative," Dempster said. "When I was successful in the past, when I made the All-Star team in 2000, after an outing good or bad, I always looked at the positive."

That's worked pretty well this spring. Dempster threw six innings of three-hit shutout ball in the Reds' 6-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins Saturday. Dempster struck out five and walked none.

It's the second straight start Dempster (3-0) has gone six innings.

He has looked nothing like the pitcher who went 10-13 with a 5.38 ERA for the Marlins and Reds last season.

How did he change things?

"A long look in the mirror," he said.

He's also following the game plan of pitching coach Don Gullett.

"I'm being really aggressive in the strike zone," he said, "getting ahead of hitters. Part of it is confidence. Last year, confidence wasn't very strong."

Dempster needed only 68 pitches to get through the six innings.

"(Denny) Hocking was yelling from the Twins dugout about me going nine innings," Dempster said. "I had a lot of fun out there."

NEWEST RED: Benny Agbayani was asked if he wanted to play against the Twins.

His answer? Sure.

Agbayani, whom the Reds picked up off waivers Friday, was anxious to get to work.

"I've got to play to show them what I can do," he said.

Agbayani is on a minor-league contract but he could become part of the major-league plans if he shows he can be an effective bat off the bench.

Agbayani got calls from the Reds and Milwaukee Brewers after the Boston Red Sox released him.

"This was a better situation," Agbayani said.

One of the big reasons is Reds hitting coach Tom Robson, who was the New York Mets' hitting coach when Agbayani had his best years.

NO RUST: Brandon Larson's layoff with a sore rib cage muscle hasn't affected his bat.

Larson went 2-for-4 with three RBI and a home run Saturday. He's 6-for-10 with two homers and seven RBI in the three games since returning from a 10-game absence.

"Usually when I come back after being out, I'm super aggressive," he said. "This time, I've been a little more relaxed. I'm seeing the ball real well. But the big thing is I'm not swinging at bad pitches."

Larson hasn't played in the field yet, but probably will do so today or Monday. The injury occurred while he was throwing.

GOING NINE: Once the Reds get past Monday's split-squad doubleheader and Wednesday's off day, the starting eight will begin playing nine innings.

"We'll start playing it straight," manager Bob Boone said. "We'll bring in relievers in situations."

ONE MORE GONE: Outfielder Dernell Stenson was outrighted to Triple-A Louisville.

Stenson hit .200 in 20 at-bats since being picked up off waivers from Boston on March 1.

The Reds now have 40 players in camp, not counting Jose Rijo, Luke Prokopec and Russell Branyan - all of whom are likely to start the season on the disabled list.

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