Pitching holds key to season

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 3, 2006

ASHLAND, Ky. — The offense would like to resurrect the nickname of the Big Red Machine from the Cincinnati Reds’ 1970s glory years.

The pitching would like nothing better than to be termed “Armed and Dangerous.”

As of now, the offense is the name of Cincinnati’s game.

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Last season the Reds led the National League in runs scored. They had the most production out of the catching position with Jason LaRue and Jose Valentin, and Felipe Lopez was the most productive shortstop in baseball.

Add sluggers like Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena, and the Reds have a murderers’ row.

But the key, as always, lies in the pitching of both starters and relievers.

“We had meetings last week and the biggest thing we need is a closer,” said Gene Bennett, special assistant to the general manager.

Former Reds pitcher and 20-game winner Tom Browning will be working with the pitchers in spring training.

Browning, who joins Lee May as the newest members in the Reds Hall of Fame, said the key to the team’s success will be consistency.

“They’ve got arms there, they just need to step up and be consistent in what they do,” Browning said. “The offense is more than capable of going out and scoring runs. (The pitchers) just have

to go out there and do what they’re capable of doing on a consistent basis.”

Among the candidates for the closer role are David Weathers, Kent Merker, Chris Hammond and Todd Coffey, a hard-throwing righthander who rarely walks batters.

“We had five rookies in the bullpen at one time last year and one of them was Todd Coffey,” Reds manager Jerry Narron said.

“I look for one of these guys to really step up and pitch the backend of the bullpen.”

Narron took over for Dave Miley in the middle of last season and the Reds were 46-46 during his interim tenure. With the interim removed, Narron sees the Reds offense as one of the best in baseball and admits the pitching must pick up for them to contend in the National League Central Division.

“The last couple of months of the season our pitching improved. I was really pleased with Aaron Harang and Brandon Claussen, two guys who got a chance to pitch on a regular basis for the first time in their careers and gave us a chance to win every night,” Narron said.

“Eric Milton has been a good major league pitcher. Last year he struggled and he’s working real hard to show everybody he’s better than he was a year ago. We got Dave Williams for Sean Casey and he’s a solid major league lefthanded starter.”

The fifth starter should be Paul Wilson who is currently rehabbing in Florida after missing most of last season with an arm injury.

The Reds picked up Tony Womack in the offseason for additional speed to go along with Ryan Freel.

“There are times when we have to manufacture runs,” Narron said.

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Saturday, Feb. 18.