Drubbing doesn’t keep Neagle from optimism

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 31, 2000

The Associated Press

Neagle joked with teammates in the Cincinnati Reds bullpen after his latest drubbing Thursday.

Friday, March 31, 2000

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Neagle joked with teammates in the Cincinnati Reds bullpen after his latest drubbing Thursday. He was upbeat when he recounted his final spring performance for reporters. There was nothing in his smile that hinted at what had just happened.

Five innings. Four homers. Nine runs.

”I was laughing with the guys in the bullpen,” Neagle said, following an 11-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. ”I said, ‘Is it bad to feel good if I give up nine runs in five innings?”’

Not in an exhibition. But if Neagle comes away from his next few starts with numbers like that, the Reds aren’t going to feel good at all.

The Reds came to spring training counting on a healthy Neagle to win 15 to 20 games this season. He’s been healthy and gotten hammered, giving up a team-leading 10 homers, 13 walks and 27 runs in 25 innings in spring training. That computes to a 9.72 earned run average.

Neagle put a lot of emphasis on his final spring start, hoping to get beyond his concentration lapses and his problems throwing out of the stretch.

Instead, he fussed at the home plate umpire and finished with a three-homer inning.

”Would I love to finish stronger? Absolutely. Am I going to not get any sleep over this? Of course not,” he said. ”I’m healthy. I feel good about myself. I feel ready to go for my first start of the season.”

Manager Jack McKeon hopes so, though his care in answering questions about Neagle showed his concern.

”How many runs did he give up? Nine. Let’s face it, he didn’t pitch very well,” McKeon said. ”For about three innings he had command of his stuff but again, he was up in the strike zone.

”But once again, it’s spring training. If he turns right around and throws a three-hit shutout the first time out, what’s the big deal?”

Before the game, McKeon sat in the first base dugout and said he was happy with how things had gone in the spring. His only hesitance came when he got around to the starting pitching.

Neagle isn’t the only starter who has struggled. When fifth starter Mark Portugal was released Wednesday, he had the second-lowest ERA in the rotation at 6.00. He’s being replaced by a pitcher from Double-A.

”At times, you would have liked to have seen the pitchers a little sharper,” McKeon said. ”But I’ve seen guys sharp in the spring and they can’t get anybody out in the season.

”I think they’ll get better and better. At least we’re confident that everybody’s healthy. That’s a plus.”

Neagle hasn’t had any problems with his left shoulder, which was weak last spring and wound up sidelining him for half of the season. That was his consolation Thursday.

Even though Neagle’s numbers aren’t good, his shoulder is sound. He was able to make some good pitches Thursday, just not enough.

His meltdown at home plate umpire Corey Erickson – Neagle yelled at him twice over ball-and-strike calls during Toronto’s five-run fifth – seemed to sum up his spring.

”It’s obviously frustrating because I don’t want to leave with linescore like that, but I know I pitched a lot better than my linescore shows,” he said.