Pitching key to Reds in 2004

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 3, 2004

The Cincinnati Reds 2004 season can be summed up in one sentence by the legendary Yankees catcher Yogi Berra.

You've heard the Yogi-isms. This one fits the Reds to a tee.

"Half the game is 90 percent pitching."

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Oh, sure it doesn't seem to make sense, but neither do the Reds. Or at least their front office.

Think about Opening Day. I mean, the real Opening Day, not that sell-out

job in Japan.

(Boy, I bet Yankee fans were happy that one of the most exciting games of the entire season was played halfway around the world at 5 a.m., no less. No missing school today kids, the game will be over before breakfast.)

Opening Day in Cincinnati is when the Major League Baseball season is supposed to start. It was a tradition. Well, a tradition cast aside by the current baseball powers who prefer more cash to just about anything else.

The Reds Opening Day starter is not Ewell Blackwell, Paul Derringer, Joey Jay, Sammy Ellis, Jim Maloney, Mario Soto, Jose Rijo, or any other pitching great in team history.

This year it's Cory Lidle.

That collective shudder was opposing Chicago Cubs hitters who have to step into the batter's box Monday and look the imposing Lidle in the eye.

Cincinnati might be better off to start Joe Nuxhall. They'd probably get more innings out of the ol' lefthander.

So Lidle, a 15-game loser last year, heads a pitching staff that collectively had more days on the disabled list than innings pitched.

There's Jimmy Haynes, Paul Wilson, and, possibly the ace, Jose Acevedo. Don't see many All-Stars there.

Danny Graves was a flop as a starter and returns to the bullpen. The main man in the bullpen may be rookie Ryan Wagner who could end up in the starting rotation. That's not a stretch when you consider the legends he must unseat.

One thing the Reds do have is a potent offensive lineup, but it has health concerns. If the Reds stay healthy, there's no reason why they can't erase last season's 93-loss disaster in their new Great American Ballpark.

A big key to the offense could be Ken Griffey Jr., but he must remain healthy.

(There is no truth that the new wing at St. Luke Hospital was named after Griffey since all his visits paid for the facility.)

Griffey hit just .158 in the spring before - you're not going to believe this - he went down with a hamstring injury.

Griffey nor manager Dave Miley are concerned. They, too, have been listening to Yogi who once said, "Slump? I ain't in no slump… I just ain't hitting."

Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns suffered season-ending injuries last year. If healthy, they could join first baseman Sean Casey and Griffey to form a formidable lineup.

The infield will also have D'Angelo Jimenez at second base and potential power hitting Brandon Larson at third base.

Shortstop is a question mark. Barry Larkin's parking space outside the stadium now carries a handicap sticker. At 40, Larkin will not be an everyday player and his replacements will never be household names.

Jason "Lash" LaRue is back at catcher, but backup Corky Miller will probably be the man behind the mast before it's all over.

So Reds fans, don't give up hope too soon. If the young pitchers mature and the offense stays healthy, the Reds could begin to turn their fortunes around this season.

Hey, remember Yogi's most famous quote, "It ain't over until it's over."

Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.