Graves adjusts to starting role

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 19, 2003

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The move from closing games to starting them has got Danny Graves' head spinning faster than one of his rally-ending sinkers.

No one could prepare him for this.

There's too little time to kill and too few things to do before the first pitch. By the time the newest member of the Cincinnati Reds' rotation gets to the mound, he's already had an excruciating day.

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Then, there's this matter of the windup. Graves doesn't have one.

''It's totally new,'' said Graves, who has been a reliever throughout his professional career. ''It's been about 12 years since the last time I did a windup. No rule says you have to have it. I've tried like 72 different windups, and 71 of them didn't work.''

No matter. The Reds are counting on Graves, who saved 30 games each of the last three seasons, to save the entire bullpen this time around.

With a wealth of dependable relievers and a dearth of proven starters, the Reds decided to move Graves into the rotation this season. Scott Williamson, who throws harder and gets more strikeouts, will be the primary closer.

Manager Bob Boone and pitching coach Don Gullett think that Graves is better suited to a starting role, allowing him to use his slider and changeup as well as his trademark sinker. Graves started four games near the end of last season and went 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA, showing he could do it.

The problem: He's not always sure how to do it.

For instance, the right-hander hasn't pitched out of a windup since his pro career started in the Cleveland Indians' farm system in 1995. Even when he'd start an inning, Graves would pitch out of the stretch.

Now that it would be beneficial to throw out of a windup, Graves has to learn how to do it all over again. He threw the first two pitches out of the windup Monday against Florida, then scrapped it completely when Juan Pierre lined the second one for a single.

''Sometimes new things click easy for people, and sometimes it takes them a long time to,'' Graves said. ''This is one of the things that's taking me a long time.

''I'm not saying I'm totally giving up on it. If I'm in a regular season start pitching out of the stretch and we're in the sixth inning and winning 8-0 or something like that, I might give it a shot.''

Gullett thinks Graves' fastball could gain a few miles per hour if he threw it out of a windup, but he concurs that it's better to stay with the stretch and sacrifice speed for now.

''He's not comfortable in the windup,'' Gullett said Tuesday. ''The most important thing is for him to feel comfortable out there.''

The windup isn't the only part of his new job that leaves him out of sorts. Graves still hasn't gotten used to the routine reserved for those who pitch once every five days.

With his outgoing personality and easygoing temperament, Graves handled the pressure of closing games quite easily. He's lost when it comes to getting ready to start.

He'll get to the ballpark early, glance at a magazine, stretch, play catch, talk to a few teammates, then look at the clock and realize there are several hours left before game time.

''It's real nerve-racking, just having to sit there,'' Graves said. ''It's just miserable.

''If I start for 10 more years, I think I'll still be the same on game day. I'm just anxious to get out there. I don't want to sit around.''

He could get some tips from the other starters, but prefers to watch them and learn by observation.

''I'm just trying to see what they do on days they pitch,'' Graves said. ''I don't want to bother them with my problems. They have their work to do.

''I'm still working on the routine.''

Among other things.