Reds, Bailey seek answers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Associated Press

CINCINNATI — What do the Cincinnati Reds do with Homer Bailey?

The 22-year-old pitcher got knocked around again on Sunday, leaving him 0-3 in three starts this season. The former first-round draft pick seems to be caught in a rut with no clear idea of how to get himself turned around.

Email newsletter signup

It might take a trip back to the minors to do that.

Bailey lasted only 2 1-3 innings Sunday in a 9-0 loss to Boston. He gave up three walks, three homers and five runs, failing to strike out a batter. In his last two starts, Bailey has given up 10 runs while failing to make it to the fifth inning in either game.

‘‘You’ve got to make pitches and locate your fastball and hope you get your secondary pitches over,’’ manager Dusty Baker said. ‘‘If you’re not getting your secondary pitches over, guys can sit on your fastball. And if you’re not locating it (where you want), you’re in trouble.’’

That pretty much sums up Bailey’s brief career in the majors. The things that got him here aren’t working, and the things that held him back are in the spotlight.

The hard-throwing Texan was the seventh overall pick in the June 2004 draft out of La Grange High School. He struck out 536 batters in 298 innings during his prep career, and got a $2.3 million bonus when he signed with Cincinnati.

He dominated in the lower minors, striking out 125 batters in 103 2-3 innings at Class A in 2005. He was picked as the organization’s top minor league player a year later, when he went 7-1 with a 1.59 ERA in Double-A.

With the rotation in flux last season, fans and local commentators clamored for the team to call up Bailey, who was still only 21. Former general manager Wayne Krivsky insisted that Bailey needed work — his breaking pitch and change-up were subpar, and he was slow to the plate with runners on base — and didn’t want to rush him.

Finally, they gave him a shot. It didn’t work out so well.

Bailey went 4-2 with a 5.76 ERA in nine starts last season, when he fanned 28 and walked 28 in 45 1-3 innings. He tended to go deep into counts and had trouble finishing off batters, who could handle his fastball.

Bailey got a chance to win a spot in the rotation this spring, but struggled with his control and wound up in the minors. He was promoted on June 5 when fifth starter Josh Fogg went on the disabled list, and has showed little progress in his three starts.

Baker said the club will consider sending Bailey back to Louisville to work on his other pitches.

‘‘He didn’t have a second pitch he could throw for strikes,’’ Baker said. ‘‘You saw it. He couldn’t get his other stuff over.’’

When he was called up last season, Bailey was considered the organization’s top pitching prospect in more than a decade. Now, he’s not even the top one in his age group — 22-year-old Johnny Cueto won a spot in the rotation during spring training and has won five games.

Bailey doesn’t know what to do next.

‘‘If I knew, I’d figure it out,’’ Bailey said. ‘‘The main thing is I’m just not pitching (well). Physically, I feel fine.’’

In his second start, Bailey’s fastball often registered below 90 mph. It was back up to 93 mph on Sunday, but it wasn’t enough. The Red Sox let him get deep into a count, then waited for one of those fastballs.

Afterward, Bailey knew he could be headed back to Triple-A Louisville.

‘‘Those discussions are out of my hand,’’ Bailey said. ‘‘Whatever decisions Dusty makes, I’ll just have to respect them.’’