Sunday, April 27, 2003

Solid start relieves Graves

Doesn't get win, but makes strides

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For five innings Saturday, pitcher Danny Graves gave the Reds exactly what the team will need from him this season in the starting role: a low pitch count, ground-ball outs and good control.

He took a 3-1 lead over the Padres into the sixth inning at Great American Ball Park with just one major error - a home run to Rondell White in the fourth inning. After beginning the season 0-2 in four starts and an 8.02 ERA , this was turning into the type of game that proved the switch from career reliever to starter was the right move.

"That's as good as he's pitched since day one of spring training," said Reds manager Bob Boone. "That looked more like Danny Graves. He was hitting his spots and getting good movement. I saw him get the ball in on some guys and break some bats. He was very pitch efficient. I expect to see that from him all the time."

What Boone and Graves don't expect is the type of blowup that occurred in the sixth inning, when Graves walked Keith Lockhart and Mark Loretta before giving up a one-out, three-run homer to Ryan Klesko. Just that fast, Graves' first win was a 4-3 deficit. The Reds went on to win 7-6 in 10 innings, , but Graves was left thinking about the two walks he gave up in the sixth that changed the scope of the game.

"I'm not giving myself a chance to get guys out and not giving the fielders a chance to make some plays, which they were doing all day," Graves said. "It just goes to show, you walk a couple guys and one bad pitch, and all of a sudden you lose the lead. It's very frustrating."

Until the Klesko homer, Graves had yielded three hits and no walks. He said he lost his focus in the sixth after walking Lockhart, who was pinch-hitting for Padres starting pitcher Clay Condrey, to open the inning.

"At the time it definitely spoiled (the outing)," Graves said. "But I made a lot of other strides forward today. And we won, so that makes it even better. It makes me feel a little better. Every time you go out and pitch you learn something different. I've learned now, you've got to let them hit it. You can't walk anybody."

Graves went deeper into the game Saturday (6 1/3 innings) than he has all season, yet he's still winless in five starts, three of which are Reds wins. Taking into account his bullpen experience, Graves realizes the importance of staying on the mound as a starter.

"Those first couple starts in the back of your mind, you think it can't get any worse, Graves said. "It can only get better.

"Get out there and do what you can, go as hard as you can for as long as you can. I'm going to lose sleep over those two walks because I could have gotten into the eighth, possibly the ninth inning, if I don't walk those two guys."

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