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Reds hope Bailey ends draft jinx

CINCINNATI — Only time can determine how good of a day this really was for the Cincinnati Reds.

There was a buzz in the air. Great American Ballpark was nearly full of fans that had come to see this phenomenon that was to pitch against the Cleveland Indians in his major league debut.

Or maybe he was more like an alien. The fans had heard a lot about him, but no one had actually seen him in action. Was it all just some hype to mask the disappointing season they were enduring as the Reds began an interleague homestand?

And then Homer Bailey took his warm-up pitches on the mound, soaked in the ovation and went to work.

“Days like this, you can ask anybody here, you never forget them,” said Bailey.

Judging by Cincinnati’s track record of failing to get pitchers they’ve drafted through their minor league system and to the majors, the Reds are more than happy to forget the past and remember Friday’s debut of the much-ballyhooed Homer Bailey.

“We don’t expect him to be dominating, but we do think he is going to be a good pitcher for our organization,” said Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky.

Here is why the quick rise of the 21-year-old Bailey has Reds front office officials and scouts seeing green instead of red.

Pitchers have not fared well trying to make it through the Reds organization in the past decade or so. The last first-round pick to start for the Reds was C.J. Nitkowski, a 1994 choice out of St. John’s who muddled on the staff for a short time and was dealt to Detroit in the David Wells 1995 trade.

Other names to reach the majors were standouts like Jim Maloney, Don Gullett, and Tom Browning who went 20-6 in his 1985 rookie season.

But that’s where the success ended and bad decisions or bad luck took over.

The Reds selected Ty Howington No. 1 in 1999 and followed three years later with Chris Gruler as the top pick. Both pitchers were expected to make the big club but had their journeys railroaded by injuries in the minors.

Enter Homer Bailey, the Reds No. 1 selection in 2004 and seventh overall. A Texas-size product at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Bailey stayed on the lips of Reds fans as he made his rapid climb through the minor leagues.

Bailey was 6-1 at Louisville, the Reds Triple-A farm team, while registering a 2.31 earned run average. With a fastball clocked as his as 98 miles an hour, Bailey had 51 strikeouts in 58.1 innings and allowed just 24 walks.

Whether it was a surge of adrenaline or just nervous shakes from making his major league debut, Bailey only showed flashes of his talents.

Bailey’s first pitch to Grady Sizemore was a ball and he ended his five-inning debut stint with only 11 first-pitch strikes to the 24 batters he faced.

“Not too good,” Bailey said when asked to rate his performance. “I got behind a lot of hitters. We got that win. That’s the important thing.”

But it was vintage Bailey that ended the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, he fired four straight fastballs with three hitting the radar gun at 93 miles an hour. All were strikes including the final one that struck out David Dellucci to end the inning.

“You just have to keep thinking, ‘Just get this guy out any way you can,’” said Bailey.

The pitch was the 114th of the game for Bailey who got a roaring approval from the crowd of 38,696 that came to see his debut.

Expect more big crowds and better performances. This kid is here to stay.

“When we had an opening in our roster, everyone in the minor leagues said he was the guy,” said Reds manager Jerry Narron. “He’s going to get five or six starts to see what he can do.

“The thing he has is a plus fastball (90 miles an hour or more) with good placement. To see him pitch the way he did tonight, I can’t say enough about it. It’s outstanding for him, our ball club and our entire organization.”

Thanks to home runs by Brandon Phillips, Jeff Conine, and Ken Griffey Jr., the Reds won 4-3 and Bailey had a win in his debut.

Looks like it was a good day after all.

—Sinatra —

Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.