Friday, March 21, 2003

Time for starters to take the field

But injuries continuing to take toll

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

SARASOTA, Fla. - Thursday was the day the Reds were hoping to play their starting eight. It didn't quite happen that way.

Wily Mo Pena, not Austin Kearns, was in right field for the 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Felipe Lopez, not Brandon Larson, was at third base. Larson was in the lineup at designated hitter - a strange thing in a game involving two National League teams.

"We got permission from the commissioner's office to do it," Reds manager Bob Boone said.

That the DH was used so Larson could get some at-bats shows the Reds are getting a little pressed for time to get everyone ready for the March 31 opener.

Larson was still unable to play in the field because of a strained rib cage muscle.

Thursday's game was the 25th of the spring for the Reds. The projected starting lineup - Sean Casey, Aaron Boone, Barry Larkin, Larson, Kearns, Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn - has started one game together.

The reason is nagging injuries. The Reds suffered another minor setback Thursday. Larkin left the game after being hit on the right arm with a pitch.

With seven games remaining before the team breaks camp, the starters won't get much of a chance to play together before heading north.

"It'll happen," Larkin said. "I think it's just a matter of not wanting to push it. The idea is to be ready when the season starts."

Larson will play third base today if he's not too sore from Thursday's game.

Kearns, who had surgery March 10 to remove three loose bodies from around his left elbow, has been cleared to play.

He took soft-toss batting practice Thursday.

"I didn't hold back," he said. "I swung pretty hard. I didn't have any problems."

Kearns, who has only 372 big-league at-bats, would like to see as much live pitching as possible before the camp ends.

"However many games we have, I want to play and play all nine innings to get ready," he said.

None of the injuries has been serious. Boone won't push things just to get the starting eight out there.

"It's not necessary," he said. "I'd like to. We're waiting on Kearns. Larkin could have played. It was a precaution. Larson will probably be out there (today). Kearns had a good session. Hopefully, he'll be in there (by the weekend)."

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