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5 Cincinnati Reds How bad are the Reds? Two years ago their ace was a minor leaguer--in Japan

March 25, 2002
March 25, 2002

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March 25, 2002

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5 Cincinnati Reds How bad are the Reds? Two years ago their ace was a minor leaguer--in Japan

The ace of the Reds is Elmer Dessens.

This is an article from the March 25, 2002 issue Original Layout

The ace of the Reds is a 30-year-old righthanded journeyman from
Hermosillo, Mexico, whose boyhood hero was Fernando Valenzuela.

The ace of the Reds has a major league record of 23-27 with a
4.78 ERA. He's no Fernando Valenzuela.

The ace of the Reds is the ace of the Reds for three reasons.

1) Because general manager Jim Bowden is forced to maintain a
puny payroll. Two seasons ago he shipped Denny Neagle,
Cincinnati's No. 1 starter, to the Yankees for a package of
minor leaguers. This off-season Pete Harnisch, a gritty
righthander, departed as a free agent. The Reds' payroll is now
$45 million, too low to be able to afford a true ace.

2) Because were it not for the Devil Rays, Cincinnati would
feature baseball's worst rotation. Lefthander Lance Davis showed
promise as a rookie last year by going 7-3 with a 3.66 ERA after
the All-Star break, but righties Chris Reitsma, Jose Acevedo and
Joey Hamilton offer all the hope of an Enron 401(k). Reitsma has
twice broken his pitching arm. Acevedo is coming off December
hernia surgery. Hamilton was released last August by the Blue
Jays after winning 15 games over three seasons. Last year the
Reds ranked 14th in the National League with a 4.77 ERA. They
haven't improved.

3) Because Mario Soto isn't going to make a comeback.

The ace of the Reds has been around. Since 1993 he has pitched
in Mexico and Japan as well as for three minor league teams and,
briefly in '97 and '98, the Pirates. "Guys like Elmer can do a
lot for you," says Cincinnati pitching coach Don Gullett. "He
might not have the most talent, but from bouncing around and
struggling, he wants it bad. That makes him our ace."

The ace of the Reds knows frustration, which should serve him
well this season. Before the 1999 season he signed with the
Yomiuri Giants only to spend most of the year with one of their
farm teams. "You don't go to Japan to play in their minors," he
says. "It was no good."

On Dec. 13, 1999, Cincinnati signed Dessens as a free agent. "At
best we thought he might be the 11th man on staff," says
Gullett. "He surprised us. He's a diamond from nowhere."

The ace of the Reds has four pitches, none above average. His
favorite is a tricky little cut fastball. His two-seamer, which
tops out at 92 mph, is designed to drop. Often it doesn't; last
year he allowed a team-high 32 homers in 34 games. His changeup
is as good as his English, which he doesn't speak much. Mostly
he gets by on grit and know-how.

The ace of the Reds believes Cincinnati can hang with the
Astros, Cardinals and Cubs in the Central Division. So does
manager Bob Boone. The popular reasoning? "The way I see it,"
says catcher Kelly Stinnett, "we have five Number 3 starters. If
those guys can get us through six innings, the bullpen can take
over."

Indeed, the Reds' strength is a tested relief corps that led the
National League with 567 2/3 innings pitched and a 3.71 ERA in
2001. The bullpen will benefit from the return of Scott
Williamson, perhaps the most gifted man on Gullett's staff. Last
year he made the jump from middleman to the rotation, only to
have his elbow explode in his second start. He underwent Tommy
John surgery a few days later. Were Williamson to move into the
rotation this year, he would immediately leapfrog Dessens to the
No. 1 spot. Boone, however, will be patient. "Too many guys have
rushed back and hurt themselves," he says. "We won't make that
mistake with Scott. We'll stick with the starters we have."

The ace of the Reds doesn't consider himself the ace of the
Reds. "I don't stand out," Dessens says. "We have a lot of
starters like me." The ace of the Reds is correct --J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Cincinnati's pitching woes begin with Dessens--given that he's the No. 1 starter--but they don't end there.COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART/GETTY IMAGES GRIFFEY

IN FACT
Jason LaRue threw out 60.9% of would-be base stealers last year.
He was the only regular NL catcher with a success rate of better
than 45%.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Reds

"Most teams, you can tell what they're doing. I don't know about
the Reds. I don't think they know. It's a storied franchise, and
to see the mess it's in right now is a shame. And they don't
exactly have John McGraw managing.... The pitching is a
dartboard. Danny Graves is the key to the staff. Is he the
closer or is he in the rotation?...The Reds should score some
runs, though. Their infielders are pretty sound--if they can
stay healthy. Barry Larkin and Aaron Boone have had problems in
that area. Can Larkin hold it together for another year?...Ken
Griffey Jr. is still a great player, but with all the criticism
he took in spring training from former teammates, you have to
wonder how much that's going to wear on him. And with his father
not coaching, he doesn't have the built-in support system in the
clubhouse.... Adam Dunn has a chance to have a breakout year. He
looked good last year, but this is the big leagues, and people
make adjustments. He's a strong guy with big power who's capable
of putting up huge numbers and driving in a lot of runs....
Jason LaRue is a catcher who'll hit. He throws well, but I've
seen him botch a lot of balls behind the plate.... Their
middle-relief guys aren't bad--Scott Sullivan, Gabe White,
Hector Mercado and Jim Brower--but this is a staff of Number 4
and Number 5 starters. Lance Davis is in the rotation throwing
85. Jose Acevedo? Joey Hamilton? They don't have anybody who can
match up with the 1, 2 or 3 starters from another team."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2001 statistics

PLAYER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
BATTING ORDER

2B Todd Walker L-R 216 .296 17 75 1
SS Barry Larkin R 123 .256 2 17 3
CF Ken Griffey Jr. L 26 .286 22 65 2
LF Adam Dunn L-R 40 .262 19 43 4
1B Sean Casey L-R 99 .310 13 89 3
3B Aaron Boone R 152 .294 14 62 6
RF Juan Encarnacion[1]R 222 .242 12 52 9
C Jason LaRue R 226 .236 12 43 3

BENCH

C Kelly Stinnett R 308 .257 9 25 2
IF Wilton Guerrero S-R 312 .338 1 8 5
OF Brady Clark R 341 .264 6 18 4

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
STARTERS

RH Elmer Dessens 147 10 14 6.0 1.35 4.48
RH Chris Reitsma 159 7 15 6.0 1.42 5.29
RH Jose Acevedo 195 5 7 5.3 1.41 5.44
RH Joey Hamilton* 224 6 10 5.4 1.70 5.93
LH Jimmy Haynes[1] 192 8 17 5.8 1.51 4.85

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
BULLPEN

RH Danny Graves 58 6 5 32 1.26 4.15
RH Scott Sullivan 171 7 1 0 1.26 3.31
LH Gabe White[1] 267 1 7 0 1.42 6.25

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings
pitched per start

WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched PVR: Player Value
Ranking (explanation on page 154)

*Combined AL and NL stats

Manager
Bob Boone
second season with Cincinnati

2001 record
66-96
fifth in NL Central

IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings

Golden Glover

Griffey

Good Leather

Dunn
Encarnacion
Casey
Walker
Larkin
Boone
Dessens
LaRue

Iron Hands