By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HOUSTON - In the first seven games of the season, Wily Mo Pena has spent nearly all his time watching and waiting.
Pena, the 21-year-old rookie, had pinch-hit three times going into Wednesday's game with the Houston Astros. He struck out twice and hit one long fly ball.
Three at-bats in seven games is not exactly the formula for developing a player. But the Reds are committed to keeping Pena on the roster rather than lose him. Pena is out of options; some team would claim him if the Reds put him on waivers to send him back to the minors.
The sad thing is that the very talent that makes the Reds want to keep Pena is going to waste.
"This will hurt him," Reds manager Bob Boone said. "You don't develop by not playing . . . but it's more important for us to win. We're trying to win at the expense of Wily Mo. It's tough to have it both ways."
Pena had a good spring - .297, four home runs, eight RBI in 64 at-bats - but he finished on a 2-for-21 skid.
"He made great strides this spring," Boone said. "He's so talented, he just may all of the sudden get it."
But Pena is way down the depth chart, and there has been no mention of him getting any playing time with Ken Griffey Jr. out.
Pena is happy to be where he is.
"I'm learning so much," he said. "I play my game in batting practice. I try to go to left, center, right. During the game, I watch the other pitcher."
NO STEAL: The Reds, according to the official stats, are the only team in baseball not to have attempted a steal.
The Reds had 12 steals in 15 attempts in the first seven games last year.
"We run when we can," Boone said. "We never ran just to run last year."
REYNOLDS AGAIN: Scout Johnny Almaraz gave unsigned free agent right-hander Shane Reynolds a good recommendation after seeing him throw Tuesday.
"He can help somebody win games this year," Almaraz said. "He needs two or three Triple-A starts and he'll be ready."
The Astros released Reynolds on March 27 to keep two younger pitchers.
A report Tuesday said Major League Baseball rejected two contracts Reynolds had worked out with the New York Mets.
Reynolds, 103-86 with a 3.95 ERA, is looking for an opportunity in the majors. The Reds don't have a spot open in the rotation, and they have Pete Harnisch rehabilitating.
That won't change much in 2004. The Reds have $5 million committed to Danny Graves for '04, $3.5 million to Paul Wilson, a $2.5 million option with Jimmy Haynes and control of the rights to Ryan Dempster.
SULLY & GABE: General manager Jim Bowden has been trying to trade Gabe White and Scott Sullivan since last season ended.
Given that Sullivan and White have been so effective early this season and others in the bullpen have struggled, are they off the trade block?
"I learned a long time ago not to make the mistake of saying who would or would not be traded," Bowden said.
MATEO TODAY: Boone said Ruben Mateo would get a start in center field today because left-hander Jeriome Robertson is starting for the Astros.
Kelly Stinnett, the only Red who had not played going into Wednesday, will start Friday or Saturday.
"We've got that brutal day coming up," Boone said. "We'll see how Jason (LaRue) feels."
The Reds play in Houston at 8:05 p.m. today, then play at 7:05 p.m. Friday at Great American.
REITSMA'S READY: Chris Reitsma went only three innings (one run, four hits) in his start Wednesday for Triple-A Louisville. The Reds wanted him to be fresh in case Jimmy Haynes (sore back) can't make his start Saturday.
Haynes will test his back in a bullpen session today.
UP NEXT: Danny Graves (0-0, 10.80 ERA) makes his second start of the year tonight when the Reds conclude the three-game series with the Astros. Robertson (0-1, 16.62) starts for the Astros.
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