Notes: Burton trying to prove he belongs
Rule 5 Draft pick providing mostly positive results this spring
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Reliever Jared Burton isn't squirming while sitting on the bubble for making the Reds' roster this spring.Burton, in camp as a Rule 5 Draft pick taken from Oakland, actually is relishing the moment. "It's coming down to the wire. It's been a great experience," Burton said. "I've been able to stay near the end and have done a pretty good job when called upon. We'll see what the final decision is in a week or so, I guess. "I'm not really putting any pressure on myself. I'm enjoying it and doing what I can do to stay within myself and going forward." Because they have to be kept on a 25-man roster all season, Rule 5 picks often can be long shots in the Major League roster race. But similar to fellow Rule 5 player Josh Hamilton, Burton has at least made a legitimate case to stick around with Cincinnati. "He's shown a great arm," Reds manager Jerry Narron said before Friday's game. "He's shown an ability to throw strikes. He's shown good movement with his pitches. He created a couple of jams for himself, but he's been able to get out of them." Burton, a power right-hander, came into the day with a 2.84 ERA through his first six appearances over 6 1/3 innings. Then he endured his first rough outing of spring on Friday against Tampa Bay during the Reds' 15-1 loss. The 25-year-old pitched the seventh inning, allowing two earned runs, three hits -- including a leadoff home run to Ben Zobrist -- and a walk that brought a visit from pitching coach Dick Pole. It wasn't an ideal performance for someone not guaranteed a spot. Burton is battling to squeeze into a crowded Reds bullpen that as of now has Todd Coffey, Mike Stanton, David Weathers and Rheal Cormier locked in. Kirk Saarloos will be there as a long man if he doesn't win the fifth starter's spot. And Dustin Hermanson seems poised to win the closer's role as a sixth reliever. One uncertainty is lefty Bill Bray, who hasn't seen action in a big-league exhibition since March 8 because of a sore shoulder. While his shoulder is better, Bray also hurt a fingertip on his hand recently when a ball hit him during drills. He's been shut down until the finger can be reexamined on Sunday, and he could open the season on the disabled list. It would leave another spot open -- depending on if the Reds carry 11 or 12 pitchers out of camp.
"It's not out that [Bray] will be with us Opening Day," Narron said. "We're getting close, but we'll see where he is on Sunday."If the Reds aren't able to keep Burton, he would have to be offered back to the A's for $25,000. It's possible a trade could be worked out with Oakland that would enable him to go to the Minor Leagues. However, Burton still would have to pass through waivers first, and another club could always claim him. Meanwhile, Burton has avoided predicting or handicapping his fate with the Reds. "Nope. I'd like to give you something to write down," he said. "But there's really nothing I can do other than continue to do well and stay healthy and make it tough for them not to keep me. That's all I can do." Does Burton's Rule 5 status make it tough to give him consideration? "Not difficult at all," Narron said. "When guys pitch well, that makes it easier. He's pitched well." Improv time: Reds starter Aaron Harang had another rough outing, allowing six earned runs and eight hits in six innings with two walks and six strikeouts. Harang endured a four-run second inning as Tampa Bay's young hitters swung aggressively. "I couldn't get into any counts," said Harang, who threw 93 pitches in the game. "They were hacking first pitch with every guy that came to the plate." In the third inning, Harang offered no fastballs or changeups -- only breaking stuff -- and got away scoreless. "Curveballs and sliders, that's it," said Harang, who settled down over his final four innings. He has a 6.97 ERA in his five starts, totaling 20 2/3 innings. Injury report: Catcher Javier Valentin (strained left hamstring) could return Saturday or Sunday. Infielder/outfielder Jerry Gil underwent an MRI exam on his sore right elbow. First baseman Scott Hatteberg, who was scratched from Thursday's lineup with a sore groin muscle, could return either Saturday or Sunday. Infielder Juan Castro, who has battled with a tender elbow, returned to the lineup as the DH on Friday. Jeff Conine, who has been away because of a death in his family, is expected to return to camp Saturday night. Conine is expected to work out on Sunday and return to the lineup Monday. Rotation adjusted: The Reds have adjusted their pitching rotation to give more exposure to the fifth starter battle. Monday's scheduled starter, Eric Milton, will be pitching in a Minor League game. Fifth spot candidate Bobby Livingston will start against the Red Sox. On Sunday, Matt Belisle will start versus the Blue Jays, with Saarloos scheduled to follow in a relief outing. Unique angle: Home plate umpire Marty Foster had to leave Friday's game after he was struck in the head by Mark Bellhorn's swinging bat in the top of the seventh. As another umpire went inside to put on protective gear, the inning continued without an official behind the plate. First base umpire Eric Cooper called balls and strikes from behind the pitcher's mound. No one had to be called out on strikes, and the umpire stepped behind the plate in the bottom of the inning. With 34 years in professional baseball, how many times had Narron seen that? "Never," said Narron before cracking an inevitable joke. "I don't know if Cooper was better from back there." Coming up: Bronson Arroyo will get the start Saturday when the Reds host the Phillies in Sarasota at 1:05 p.m. ET. Coffey, Cormier and Hermanson are scheduled to see action in the game. Right-hander Adam Eaton is slated to start for Philadelphia.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.