Friday, March 19, 2004

Freel crashes and learns

Trying to curb enthusiastic play

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DUNEDIN, Fla. - Ryan Freel heard Reds manager Dave Miley's instructions.

"He told us the first day to be smart, don't be silly," Freel said. "He said don't dive until we get north."

Whether Miley told the Reds not to run into walls is uncertain, but it certainly was implied.

But trying to slow down Freel is like trying to get the Road Runner to jog.

"It's reaction. It's instinct," Freel said. "I can't just watch the ball fall."

So when Toronto's Jorge Sequea sent one toward the wall in left-center Thursday, Freel, who was playing center field, crashed into the wall trying to run it down.

Miley wasn't pleased.

"Maybe he didn't see the wall ... ," Miley said. "We'd rather not have him do that this time of year."

Freel left the game an inning later with a sprained right ankle.

"I turned it a little," Freel said. "I'm OK. I was fine to play. But they wanted me to come in and ice it."

Miley cautioned the Reds in an effort to keep the club healthy. But for a player like Freel, who has never been guaranteed a major league roster spot, that's tough to do.

"It takes away from my game too much," he said. "I don't listen. I try, but I can't do it."

Freel's sprain is Grade 1, the mildest, and he could be back in the lineup today.

LARSON PROGRESSING: At the foot of Brandon Larson's locker Thursday rested a container of Epsom salts.

The Reds third baseman is trying everything, including the traditional soaking aid, to alleviate pain from a sprained right toe and get back to playing.

Larson, who last played nine days ago, took batting practice, fielded ground balls and threw at the team's spring training complex in Sarasota.

"He's steadily improving," Reds head trainer Mark Mann said.

No timetable has been set for Larson's return. He is hitting .462 with two homers and eight RBI in five games.

LEFTY RACE: With Mike Matthews coming off the team's worst performance by a reliever and Phil Norton coming off his two best efforts, the left-handed reliever situation is muddled.

Matthews, who hadn't given up a run in six outings before Wednesday, gave up five (three earned) in 1 2/3 innings in the 11-1 loss to Pittsburgh. Norton, who gave up at least a run in his first four outings, has pitched scoreless innings his last two times out.

The Reds aren't necessarily committed to two lefties in the bullpen.

"Any manager would like to have two," Miley said. "But I'm a firm believer in taking the best arms and going from there."

Jesus Sanchez, who has pitched as well as anyone on the staff, could be shifted to the bullpen; he has been used as a starter so far.

"That's an option," Miley said. "He hasn't done anything to take himself out of it. He's done both."

WHAT'S IN A NAME? The Reds have to be the only organization in baseball with a Wily Mo and a Willy Jo.

Wily Mo Pena is the talented but unproven outfielder with the big-league team.

Willy Jo Ronda is an 18-year-old shortstop in the minor league camp. He is listed as Jose, but goes by Willy Jo.

Ronda was picked in the third round of last year's draft and hit .301 with two home runs and 26 RBI in 47 games for the Gulf Coast Reds.

Kevin Kelly contributed to this report.

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