Thursday, July 1, 2004

Larson makes return to lineup

Off DL, third baseman gets his first start since June 22

By John Fay
Enquirer staff writer

Brandon Larson found himself in an unusual spot Wednesday: in the starting lineup for the Reds.

"It's been a good while," Larson said.

The start was Larson's first since June 22.

General manager Dan O'Brien has said the Reds are committed to Larson for the future. But Larson has become the Reds' third choice at third base - even when they need Ryan Freel to play outfield.

Tim Hummel was hitting .412 over his last 12 games going into Wednesday. Juan Castro, who started at first base Wednesday, was hitting .423 since being reinstated from the disabled list June 1.

"I can't complain," Larson said. "Both those guys are playing well. But it feels good to be back in there."

Larson, who was 0-for-4 Wednesday, probably will start today. Larson doesn't see this as a two-game trial.

"You've got to try to relax and play your game," he said. "When you put pressure on yourself, nine times out of 10, you're going to fail."

Larson has struggled at the plate since coming off the disabled list June 4. He was 8-for-46 (.174) with three RBI coming into Tuesday's game. He did hit a two-run pinch-hit home run Tuesday night.

NO CHANGE: Ken Griffey Jr. and Sean Casey were both out of the lineup again Wednesday with sore calves.

Their status was unchanged. Griffey was available to pinch hit; Casey was not.

VANDY IN, REGGIE OUT: John Vander Wal was reinstated from Triple-A Louisville's temporary inactive list Wednesday.

He was scheduled to play for the Bats in Richmond Wednesday night.

To make room for Vander Wal on the Louisville roster, the Reds released Reggie Taylor. Taylor, who played for the Reds in 2002 and '03, was hitting .257 with nine homers and 24 RBI in 61 games for the Bats.

Vander Wal will be used in Louisville the way the Reds plan to use him once he's activated - he'll pinch hit and spot start at first base and in the corner outfield positions.

CASTRO AT FIRST: Wednesday's start at first was the second of Castro's career. He has played a total of four games there.

Is he comfortable?

"Not really," he said. "It's totally different, especially with the different mitt."

Castro worked there a little during practice.

Castro is the Reds' best fielder. With left-hander Tom Glavine going for the Mets, the Reds wanted Castro's bat. Castro was 3-for-4 against Glavine when the Reds faced him last week.

ON THE SPOT: The Reds had one of their monthly luncheons with season-ticket holders Wednesday. It included a question-and-answer session.

O'Brien was asked about two hot-button topics with fans:

• Why didn't the Reds pursue Aaron Boone?

• When is Dave Miley going to get a contract extension?

O'Brien mentioned the commitment to Larson in answering the Boone question. That got an audible moan.

O'Brien said Miley's situation would be addressed after the season but added that Miley had nothing to worry about. That got cheers.

USA TODAY'S BEST: Homer Bailey, the Reds' No. 1 pick in the draft, was named USA Today's Player of the Year.

That's quite an honor when you consider some of the past winners: Derek Jeter (1992), Alex Rodriguez (1993) and Josh Beckett (1999).

Todd Van Poppel is the only Red to win the award. He won in 1990.

Bailey, a right-handed pitcher, was 15-0 with a 0.68 ERA and 201 strikeouts in 92 2/3 innings for La Grange (Texas) High.

The Reds have had preliminary talks with Bailey, but he is not close to signing.

SIGNINGS: The Reds signed three more picks Wednesday, including No. 6 pick Lonny Roa, a catcher from Puerto Rico Baseball Academy High School, and No. 9 pick Trevor Lawhorn, a second baseman from East Carolina University.

Roa will report to the Gulf Coast League; Lawhorn will report to Billings.

NO. 2 CLOSE: The Reds could add No. 2 pick B.J. Szymanski to the fold today.

Scouting director Terry Reynolds said the club and Szymanski had agreed to terms.

"He just hasn't signed yet," Reynolds said. "It should happen soon."

Szymanski is an outfielder from Princeton University.

UP NEXT: The Reds wrap up the series with the New York Mets with a 12:35 p.m. start today. Right-hander Jose Acevedo (4-6, 5.30 ERA) faces Al Leiter (3-2, 2.34).

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