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Fernandez drawing interest from Reds

The Associated Press

SARASOTA.

Thursday, March 01, 2001

SARASOTA. Fla. – Jared Fernandez’s knuckleball and availability to pitch plenty of innings if needed is getting him some interest from the Cincinnati Reds.

”There’s a lot of bad things that can happen when you have a knuckleballer,” said manager Bob Boone. ”But the good things are a lot of innings, which is one shortcoming our starting staff had last year, and the fact that a knuckleballer can screw up a lineup for many days.”

Unless some other pitchers are sidelined by injuries, Fernandez is likely to head to the minors this spring. Fernandez, 29, says he probably wouldn’t be in professional baseball at all, except for the knuckler.

”My first year of pro ball was ’94,” he said. ”I used it as a changeup two or three times a game. I knew I wasn’t going to go on with my regular stuff. They even told me, ‘With your stuff, you’d probably be a good AA pitcher.’ I knew it.”

Fernandez says he can throw the knuckler at three speeds ranging from 49 mph to 78 mph. With a repertoire of knuckler and fastball, Fernandez was 10-4 last year at Triple-A Pawtucket with a 3.02 ERA.

He allowed only 36 walks in 113 innings, thanks to advice he received long ago from Hall of Fame knuckleball specialist Phil Niekro.

”He told me to picture one of those big circles you put firewood on,” Fernandez said. ”Act like it’s sitting on home plate. Throw it in the circle and let it go where it may.

”I throw it right down the middle and let the air and wind move it. If I’m a regular pitcher and I’m throwing the breaking ball and it’s not moving, it’s my fault. But if I’m throwing a knuckleball and I took the spin off of it and it’s not moving, there’s not much else I can do.”

Tim Spehr, who caught Fernandez at Pawtucket, says opposing batters have asked him for advice.

”I’ve had hitters come up to me during a game and ask me, ‘How would you go about trying to hit this?’ Spher said. ”I tell them to treat it like a slow-pitch softball.”

Notes: Chris Sexton was 3-for-3 and scored all three runs Wednesday as the Reds beat Division II Rollins College 3-1 at Winter Park. Starter Rob Bell pitched three innings. Six others pitched one inning each. … Reds general manager Jim Bowden is a 1983 graduate of Rollins. … The Reds travel to Winter Haven on Thursday to play the Cleveland Indians in the major league spring opener for both teams.