Sunday, March 23, 2003

Graves lets go of bothersome pitch

Windup gets scratched, starter battles nerves

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DUNEDIN, Fla. - Danny Graves has scrapped the windup. "What's a windup?" Graves said.

Now, if he can get over the pregame butterflies, the Reds will have the kind of starter they envisioned when they moved Graves from the bullpen to the rotation.

Graves pitched five scoreless innings in the Reds' 4-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays here Saturday.

Graves allowed six hits, struck out two and walked none. After the first two batters hit ropes, Graves breezed.

"It's so weird ... the first inning," he said. "I don't like sitting around and waiting. I get so nervous. I feel anxious. Then I get in the bullpen and I can't throw strikes.

"Then the first guy gets a hit every time. Maybe I need to throw 15 more minutes in the bullpen to tire myself out, so I don't come out jittery and too strong."

Graves worked out of the first, getting a flyout and then two strikeouts with runners at first and third.

Graves worked exclusively from the stretch Saturday. He has struggled to get comfortable with the windup in his first four starts.

"I have to get comfortable," he said. "My job is to get guys out. My job is not to worry about the windup."

It's hard to argue with the results. The windup is supposed to give pitchers added velocity. But Graves has thrown up to 93 mph from the stretch.

Saturday, Graves' best pitch was his changeup, something he rarely used as a closer.

"I had all four pitches working," he said, "really five - I threw some good four-seam fastballs today."

Graves, the 29-year-old right-hander, was slowed by a strained patella tendon in his right knee earlier in the spring. That caused him to miss one start.

"I think he's catching up," Reds manager Bob Boone said. "He's getting his arm strength."

The best evidence of that was Graves' quick innings after the first. He needed only 67 pitches to work the five innings.

"I think that's the whole idea of why Bob decided to make me a starter," Graves said. "I can be very pitch efficient. People worry about how many innings I pitch my first year as a starter. I think I can pitch a lot if I'm pitch efficient. Some guys throw 20 pitches in an inning. I can throw five an inning sometimes."

Graves even got to do what he's really looking forward to as a starter: Hit.

"I only got one at-bat," he said. "That's the only bad thing."

Graves, who grounded out, was lucky to get one. The game was played in an American League park. That usually means using the designated hitter.

But the Reds, who used the DH at home Thursday against Pittsburgh, opted to hit Graves. "He needs some at-bats," Boone said.

Graves thought someone was doing a gag when he found a bat, batting gloves and a helmet in his locker Saturday morning.

"I got here and saw I was in the lineup and the Blue Jays were using the DH," Graves said. "I said, 'Are we allowed to do this?' Somebody said, 'I'm sure it's OK with the Blue Jays if you hit, Danny.'"

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