Wagner never expected rapid jump to majors

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 20, 2003

CINCINNATI - It took just over a month for Ryan Wagner to make the jump from college to the big leagues.

The hard-throwing right-hander, the Cincinnati Reds' No. 1 pick out of the University of Houston in last month's draft, retired all five batters he faced in his major league debut Saturday - a 9-8 loss to the Houston Astros.

''He was pretty special - real special,'' Reds manager Bob Boone said. ''He threw strikes, which we knew he did, and he had pretty special stuff.''

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Wagner threw 16 pitches, 13 of them strikes, and pinch-hitter Brian Hunter was his first major league strikeout victim in the seventh. He was so effective that many in the sellout crowd of 41,772, booed when he was taken out by Boone in the eighth.

Wagner, the 14th overall pick, threw just nine minor league innings before the Reds purchased his contract from Triple-A Louisville. He is the first player from this year's draft to reach the majors.

''They told me I might get up there quickly, but after just nine innings in the minors, you're not expecting that,'' Wagner said before the game against the Astros - the team he followed while growing up in Texas.

''It's just an indescribable feeling,'' Wagner said. ''I just turned 21 Tuesday, and it's all been a whirlwind.''

Houston's Jeff Bagwell grounded out to first to end Wagner's day.

''He's kind of funky,'' Bagwell said. ''He's tough to pick up, but I say that about every pitcher I face for the first time. I'm sure he was a little nervous, but good for him.''

Wagner wasn't intimidated by facing the Astros.

''I tried to treat them like any other batter,'' Wagner said.

Wagner will fill the bullpen spot of right-hander Scott Sullivan, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis in his right shoulder.

He drew a warning from plate umpire Larry Poncino after he went to his mouth while on the mound.

''Except for going to his mouth on the mound, I thought he had great mound composure,'' catcher Kelly Stinnett said. ''He had a real good idea of what he wanted to do. I like that.''

The Reds cleared a spot on their 40-man roster for him by placing center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. on the 60-day disabled list.

After signing for a $1.4 million bonus, he made five one-inning appearances for Double-A Chattanooga and four more with Louisville. He was a combined 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA.

Wagner used a fastball that hits 94 mph and a wicked sinker to become one of college baseball's most prolific strikeout artists. He set a Division I record last season by averaging 16.8 strikeouts per nine innings and broke the Cougars mark with 15 saves last season as a sophomore.

Wagner nearly maintained that pace in his brief stint in the minors, striking out 10 while walking just two in nine innings.

Wagner is the first player in team history to reach the majors in the same season he was drafted. He will be the youngest Reds pitcher to make his debut since left-hander Rosario Rodriguez at 20 years and 55 days in 1989. He will be the youngest Reds right-hander since Manny Sarmiento made his debut at 20 years and 79 days in 1976.