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4 Cincinnati Reds In a rotation full of questions, is designated ace Ryan Dempster the answer?

March 31, 2003
March 31, 2003

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March 31, 2003

Baseball Preview 2003

4 Cincinnati Reds In a rotation full of questions, is designated ace Ryan Dempster the answer?

Righthander and amateur magician Ryan Dempster has lots of
tricks up his sleeve, but none better than the one in which he
transforms a $100 bill into a $1 bill--right in front of your
eyes! "It always amazes people," he says. There's another trick
the Reds think Dempster can perform, and it would be equally
stunning: leading a club that has missed the playoffs seven
straight years into the postseason.

This is an article from the March 31, 2003 issue

With a young, imposing lineup, a healthy Ken Griffey Jr. and a
well-stocked bullpen, Cincinnati is a team that can challenge
for the wild card--as long as its rotation doesn't pull a
disappearing act. Without a strong performance from those
starters, however, the team could easily slip to the bottom of
the division. Enter Dempster.

When general manager Jim Bowden acquired the 25-year-old Canadian
from the Marlins last July, the Reds not only got one of the
National League's top young arms, a pitcher with back-to-back
200-inning seasons, but also a strong clubhouse presence. Not one
to mince words, Bowden made it clear to Dempster that he could
vault the Reds, who were two games behind the division-leading
Cardinals at the time of the deal, into the playoffs.

"I thought I could be the Bartolo Colon of Cincinnati," Dempster
says of the righthander who provided an immediate boost to the
Expos' postseason hopes after his trade to Montreal last June 26.
"It was my first playoff race, and I handled it terribly. I
stunk." The lowlights: six earned runs in 3 1/3 innings in a
July 12 loss to the Astros; 10 earned runs in an Aug. 4 win over
the Padres; tagged for three homers in a 7--2 drubbing in his
next start, against the Diamondbacks; and a career-high 11 hits
allowed in a 5--4 victory over the Pirates on Sept. 25. His ERA
with the Reds was 6.19. "The game was always about having fun,"
he says. "When I started to press, I lost focus."

A player known as one of baseball's crown jesters, Dempster does
a dead-on impersonation of Austin Powers and has performed
stand-up in comedy clubs. Before being traded, he hosted a weekly
segment on Miami Fox Sports Net called Ryan's World. In one of
the show's funniest moments, Dempster went to a Florida mall to
sell his used wads of chewing gum to fans. After his season began
to fall apart in Cincinnati, however, Dempster's lighter side was
rarely seen.

This spring Dempster worked with pitching coach Don Gullett to
try to regain his form, and Gullett figured out that the
righthander's problems last season could be attributed to an
inconsistent release point and striding too long off the rubber.
"Even the best pitchers lose focus sometimes," Gullett says.
"Ryan has proven that he can win games. He needed some
tinkering."

Bowden expects Dempster to win 15 games this season and hopefully
become the stopper in a rotation that will need one. Soft-tossing
righthander Jimmy Haynes had a surprising 15--10 record last
year, but skeptics wonder if he's an ace or the 17game loser he
was with the Brewers in 2001. Similar doubts have been raised
about 29-year-old righthander Danny Graves, who averaged 30 saves
over the last four seasons but has been moved from closer to the
No. 3 slot in the rotation. He throws three-plus pitches, yet he
has worked almost exclusively out of the bullpen since high
school. "He's got good stuff," says one rival general manager,
"but I can't see him lasting more than five innings."

The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation belong to lefty Jimmy
Anderson and righty Paul Wilson, respectively. Anderson, who was
signed as a free agent after being released by the Pirates in
December, has good stuff, but his cocky attitude turned off
teammates in Pittsburgh. Wilson, formerly a hot prospect in the
Mets' organization, was knocked around the last two seasons in a
Devil Rays uniform (14--21, 4.85 ERA combined). He had a mid-90s
fastball coming out of Florida State as the No. 1 pick in the
1992 draft, but after multiple arm injuries he tops out at 88.
"It's taught me how to be a real pitcher," he says of the drop in
velocity. "I don't just rely on natural tools like I used to.
Pitching is more of an art now. It's fun to reinvent yourself."

Dempster, meanwhile, doesn't need to be reinvented, just
revived. --J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH PRESSURE POINT The Reds hope Dempster handles his second pennant race better than his first.COLOR PHOTO: EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES DUNN

IN FACT

Cincinnati's Jason LaRue led all catchers with 20 passed balls
last season, and the Reds had a major-league-high
28.

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

"MANAGEMENT IS always foolishly optimistic, and there are a lot of
concerns about this rotation. Danny Graves has good stuff, but
how many innings can he work? Jimmy Haynes had a good year in
2002, but he's not the smartest pitcher and he could fall off.
Ryan Dempster has potential, but when will it kick in? Paul
Wilson is good for five or six innings, maximum, before he
falters. I wonder how long Chris Reitsma can last on just a
fastball and a change.... Will Scott Williamson be healthy enough
to close? ... If all those pitchers have good years, the Reds
will have a solid staff, but that never happens. Their hitters
expand the zone and get themselves out too often. The on-base
percentage for this group [.330] is poor. The exception is Adam
Dunn, who walked a lot because he was one of the only threats in
the lineup.... Second baseman Aaron Boone has struggled turning
the double play. He's better at third, but they've got to make
room for phenom Brandon Larson.... It seems like Barry Larkin is
80 years old. He's on the downside but still makes plays.... Ken
Griffey Jr. is not a bad guy, but he's been hardened by the
criticism in Cincinnati. Getting his mind right is the
key."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

SS Larkin
2B Boone
CF Griffey Jr.
RF Kearns
LF Dunn
1B Casey
3B Larson
C LaRue

BARRY LARKIN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 128 .245 7 47 13

AARON BOONE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 87 .241 26 87 32

KEN GRIFFEY JR.

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 22 .264 8 23 1

AUSTIN KEARNS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 115 .315 13 56 6

ADAM DUNN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 84 .249 26 71 19

SEAN CASEY

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 178 .261 6 42 2

BRANDON LARSON

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 148 .275 4 13 1

JASON LARUE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 250 .249 12 52 1

BENCH

WILY MO PENA* (R)

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 289 .255 11 47 8

FELIPE LOPEZ [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 346 .227 8 34 5

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Ryan Dempster 122 10 13 6.3 1.54 5.38
RH Jimmy Haynes 81 15 10 5.8 1.48 4.12
RH Danny Graves 88 7 3 4.8 1.26 3.19
RH Paul Wilson[#] 113 6 12 6.5 1.48 4.83
LH Jimmy Anderson[#] 215 8 13 5.5 1.64 5.44

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Scott Williamson 46 3 4 8 1.11 2.92
LH Gabe White 151 6 1 0 1.09 2.98
RH John Riedling 228 2 4 0 1.39 2.70

[#]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Double A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)

2002 RECORD

78--84
third in NL Central

MANAGER

Bob Boone
third season with Cincinnati