No secret in Cincy: Reds need pitching

By Joe Kay The Associated Press

CINCINNATI – Bob Castellini has owned the Cincinnati Reds for less than a month, and Wayne Krivsky has been their general manager for less than a week. But both newcomers know exactly what needs to happen when their team opens camp this week.

Somebody has to do something about that pitching staff.

It doesn’t take much time to figure that the Reds will go as far as their pitching takes them. Last year, it took them to a fifth straight losing season – their longest slump in 50 years.

The pitching staff already was on Castellini’s mind the day he took control of the team.

“If all the stars line up, we’re going to have a pitching staff that’s a lot better than it was last year,” Castellini said at his introductory news conference last month.

The problem: There aren’t enough stars on this staff to form a line.

“It’s pretty obvious where we were on pitching last year,” said Krivsky, who joined the team Wednesday. “I think it’s pretty common knowledge that the pitching needs to improve.”

But can it?

The Reds will start getting an answer Thursday, when pitchers and catchers report to camp in Sarasota, Fla. They’ll be interested to see how right-hander Paul Wilson is recovering from shoulder surgery. They’ll be curious about how left-hander Dave Williams fits into the rotation.

And they’ll be trying to figure out how to make sense out of a bullpen that wasn’t much better than the rotation last year.

It all starts with Wilson, who tried to pitch through pain last season and went 1-5 with a 7.77 ERA before he had surgery June 17 for a torn rotator cuff and labrum. Wilson asked trainer Mark Mann to go to Sarasota early to supervise his rehabilitation.

“Paul is such a big part of our team and our pitching staff, you couldn’t say anything but yes,” Mann said. “This was something that had to be done.”

Wilson has been throwing fastballs and building arm strength. Earlier this month, Wilson estimated that he was about halfway back to full strength, hoping to be ready for the start of the regular season. His spring training performance will decide that.

“I know what’s expected of me,” said Wilson, 33. “It’s not like I’m a young kid anymore. There are responsibilities and there are obligations, not only to me and my family, but to this organization and this team. I want to live up to that.”

Williams is the newcomer, obtained from Pittsburgh in a trade for popular first baseman Sean Casey. A spot in the rotation opened when the Reds let Ramon Ortiz leave after one disappointing season.

Williams went 10-11 for the Pirates last season with a 4.41 ERA in 25 starts. He also gave up 20 homers, and knows he has to be careful in Great American Ball Park, which yielded the most homers in the majors last season.

“Sometimes you want to get out of Dodge when you’re there,” Williams said. “Like Coors Field, it’s the same game. You want to keep the ball down.”

The Reds also need a rebound season from left-hander Eric Milton, who is coming off a horrific first year in Cincinnati. He went 8-15 with a 6.47 ERA – the second-highest in NL history for any player with 30 starts. Milton also led the majors by giving up 40 homers.

In his first spring training as the Reds manager, Jerry Narron will have to try to make some sense out of the bullpen, which had the fewest saves and gave up the second-most runs in the NL. Opponents hit .288 off the bullpen last season, the highest average in the majors.

David Weathers became the closer after Danny Graves was let go in May, and led the bullpen with 15 saves. The Reds added left-hander Chris Hammond and right-hander Rick White in an offseason overhaul.

An offense that led the league in scoring last season returns virtually intact. The most notable change is Adam Dunn moving from the outfield to first base, Casey’s vacated spot. Newcomer Tony Womack plans to challenge Rich Aurilia for the job at second base.

Otherwise, it’s all about the pitching. It if can improve, the Reds think they can be competitive.

“We’re looking at the glass as half-full,” Castellini said.