FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Pitcher Paul Wilson has done just about everything and anything to come back from a June 2005 shoulder operation.

Despite those best efforts, Wilson's bid to return to the Reds ended on Wednesday when the club released the veteran right-hander.

"It is too bad," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "He's been good for this organization the last few years. He's given us some outstanding games. Just his work ethic and the competitor he is, I think it has helped some other guys along the way. He's going to be missed."

Wilson, who was an overall No. 1 draft pick of the Mets in 1994, was competing as a non-roster player to be Cincinnati's fifth starter in the rotation. He looked good in the early days of camp but proved inconsistent once exhibition games began. The 34-year-old was 1-0 with an 8.10 ERA in five games, including two starts. His 13 1/3 innings this spring ranked third on the club.

The fifth starter's race appeared to be down to right-handers Kirk Saarloos and Matt Belisle and lefty Bobby Livingston.

"The rest of the way, we were not going to have innings for him," Narron said.

Wilson has a Major League record of 40-58 with a 4.86 ERA in 170 games. With Cincinnati since 2003, he went 11-6 with a 4.36 ERA in 2004 and earned a two-year, $8.2 million contract. Only nine starts into 2005, a torn rotator cuff and frayed labrum forced him to have the third major arm operation of his career.

There was no possibility for Wilson to be offered a Minor League assignment to continue his comeback bid.

"Right now, with what we've got in Triple-A, we feel like there's really not a spot for him," Narron said. "Hopefully, he'll pitch. If he does, I'll call anyone in baseball and do everything I can to get him a chance to pitch somewhere."

With a 3-0 record and 1.00 ERA in three games, Belisle could have the inside track for the fifth spot. Livingston has also been solid with a 1.86 ERA in four games. Saarloos, who can be versatile in either starting or relief roles, has a 6.35 ERA in his four games but has had impressive moments.

A final decision doesn't necessarily have to be made during these final days of camp. Because of an early off-day, the Reds won't need to use a fifth starter in the regular season until April 8. That might give the front office some room to maneuver the roster a few extra days.

Hamilton hit tracker: Playing right field Wednesday, Josh Hamilton was 1-for-3 with a first-inning single and a third-inning RBI groundout during a 5-3 loss to the Twins. Hamilton, who has hits in 13 of his 15 games this spring, is batting .476 (20-for-42).

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Meanwhile, the 25-year-old continues to battle with painful shin splints. He has tried changing his shoes and insoles and applying heat and ice to his legs. Because Hamilton has felt better during road games, some believe the source of the problem is the playing surface at the Reds' Ed Smith Stadium complex.

"The outfield is really soft and kind of spongy," Narron said. "The [infield] dirt is really hard. It's a bad combination."

Impressive spring: With a perfect inning of relief in the seventh against Minnesota on Wednesday, Jon Coutlangus has kept his spring ERA unblemished at 0.00 through six appearances (5 2/3 innings).

"Coutlangus was just very, very impressive," Narron said. "To get out [Joe] Mauer and [Justin] Morneau from the left side and Matthew LeCroy -- who is a pretty good hitter from the right side against left-handed pitching -- that's a pretty impressive 1-2-3 inning right there."

Also intriguing is that the left-handed Coutlangus, a converted outfielder, has just two full seasons of pitching under his belt. He was claimed off waivers from the Giants during Spring Training last year.

"Our scouts for us do a really good job," Narron said. "There are not a lot of scouts that get somebody like Coutlangus, who was taken off the roster and only pitching a year."

Injury report: Outfielder Norris Hopper is wearing a protective boot on the right heel he bruised in Monday's game. Hopper isn't expected to be available until next week, which could benefit reserve outfield candidates Chris Denorfia and Bubba Crosby, or others fighting for the 25th man spot.

Crosby, who hasn't played since Thursday because of a minor strain of his left calf, was expected to get an at-bat in a Minor League game on Wednesday.

Injured closer Eddie Guardado (elbow surgery rehab) was slated to throw 30 pitches in his latest bullpen session.

Coming up: Trying to build from his five scoreless inning performance on Saturday against Boston, Kyle Lohse will get the start for Cincinnati against the Yankees on Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET in Sarasota. Carl Pavano is New York's scheduled starter.