Nuxhall says Reds can win if pitching develops

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2005

CINCINNATI - Across the front of Great American Ball Park in giant letters is the phrase, "Rounding Third And Heading For Home."

Fans of the Cincinnati Reds have grown up on the phrase, the signature sign off of radio color commentator and former pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

Nuxhall "retired" after last season and has been replaced in the booth by Steve Stewart. He did work the Reds series at Boston this season and will make a trip later this month to Washington.

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In the meantime, Nuxhall spends his evenings in the press box at Great American Ball park watching the Reds.

Having watched the Reds from his lofty perch since becoming the Reds color announcer in 1967, Nuxhall knows the players well. He knows each player's ability and is one of the most qualified people to assess the status of the team.

Cincinnati is 48-59 and sitting in fourth place of the National League's Central Division. The Reds feature a powerful offense and a young pitching staff. Nuxhall doesn't take long to offer a reason for the Reds struggles.

"Pitching," Nuxhall said. "I don't think there's any secret about that."

Nuxhall said the pitching problem is deep-rooted. He said the Reds franchise needs to do a better job coaching in the minor leagues and upgrading its scouting staff.

"The Reds have only two (scouts) who have been here for any time," Nuxhall said.

But there is another problem with the pitching, and it's not just relegated to the Reds organization.

"Pitchers don't throw enough pitches. They're on a pitch count of 80 to 90 pitches and then they turn the game over to the bullpen. You have a $3 million setup man and a $6 million closer. That's today's game," Nuxhall said shaking his head in disgust.

Nuxhall, 77, pitched batting practice until he was in his 60s. The youngest player to ever play in the major leagues at the age of 15 years when he took the mound on June 10, 1944, the ol' lefthander had a record of 135-117 that included 53 complete games and 20 shutouts. He had a 3.90 earned run average and 19 saves even though he was predominantly a starter.

Nuxhall likes the young arms of the Reds pitching staff such as Aaron Harang, Brandon Claussen, Josh Hancock and Luke Hudson.

"Hudson is just starting to come around. He's been out so this is like spring training to him," Nuxhall said.

While baseball is committed to setup men and closers, Nuxhall said the Reds really don't have a closer although he thinks Matt Belisle could develop into that role.

If the pitching comes around, Nuxhall said the Reds have a solid young lineup and the leader is first baseman Sean Casey.

There has been a lot of speculation and suggestions to trade Casey to another team because of his inability to hit home runs. Nuxhall said Casey's value runs deeper

than his home runs.

"Casey's the one I'd take over all of (the players). They make too much out of the home runs," Nuxhall said.

The outfield is crowded with Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena. Nuxhall likes all four of them, but he hints Pena may be the odd man out.

"Griffey is a good player for them if he can stay healthy," Nuxhall said. "Dunn is a dangerous hitter. He struck out a lot last year, but I told him it's alright to strike out if you are aggressive. You'll swing at a bad pitches, but be aggressive. Kearns is the better ball player of the bunch."

Nuxhall said the catching is adequate, he likes Ryan Freel at second base, Felipe Lopez at shortstop "can make plays" and rookie Edwin Encarnacion "needs to play and see what he can do."

Moments after his assessment of the Reds, Dunn crashed a 411-foot three-run homer that puts Cincinnati up 4-2 and they go on to win 8-5.

As the fourth inning comes to an end, Nuxhall stands and says, "I'm out of here. I've got to go home and get my rest. I've got the Wally Post (golf) Open tomorrow," Nuxhall said with a grin.

And then he was rounding third and heading for home.