By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer
It's too early to tell whether the Reds' good start is merely a mirage, but it's not too early to see the difference in the way the Reds are playing.
They're getting bunts down. They're not making errors. The pitchers are throwing strikes. And they've been in every game but one.
How much credit should manager Dave Miley get for that?
"Every bit of it goes to him," said closer Danny Graves. "He's got us having fun again. He doesn't stress a lot of rules. Be on time and play hard."
"The team reflects his demeanor," first baseman Sean Casey said. "The way he's handled the pitching staff has given guys confidence. Guys in the bullpen know their roles. He's done a great job."
Miley, in his first year as the permanent major-league manager, is under a one-year contract with a club option for 2005.
The Reds could send a message to the players and fans by picking up that option early. But it doesn't look as if that will happen anytime soon.
"I don't know how to address that other than to say it hasn't been a topic of conversation," Reds general manager Dan O'Brien said.
O'Brien said that when he and Miley agreed to a contract in December it was decided that they would talk after the season.
If the Reds continue to play the way they have, making Miley wait until the season is over could a be a poor public relations move.
The decision on Miley is not entirely O'Brien's.
"It's an organizational decision," Reds chief operating officer John Allen said. "Obviously, we're pleased with the way we've played."
The Reds were 8-5 going into Wednesday's game with the Atlanta Braves.
The Reds, with a payroll of $46.6 million, just completed a road trip where they split six games against teams - the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies - with payrolls above $90 million.
They did it by playing sound fundamentally - something the 2003 Reds rarely did.
O'Brien acknowledged Miley's role in that.
"From Day One, Dave and his coaching staff have been outstanding in following the plan we wanted to institute. They've done that with a great work ethic. We're seeing the fruits of that. Dave deserves the credit for that."
The difference shows up in the numbers. Going into Wednesday:
The Reds had committed only six errors. They were sixth in the National League in fielding. Last year, they were last in the majors.
Reds pitchers had walked only 33 batters, second-fewest in the majors to the Phillies.
The pitching staff was seventh in the NL in ERA. Last year, they were 15th.
"All the things we were horrible at last year we're good at this year," Graves said. "We worked on those things in spring training."
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