SARASOTA, Fla. -- New Reds manager Dusty Baker is still putting the faces with the names and then learning how to pronounce those names.But Baker can tell immediately who he likes in camp. He's already mentioned reliever Gary Majewski a couple of times thus far, including Saturday morning. "Majewski is throwing the ball well too," opined Baker, who said the common mispronunciation of the right-hander's name as Ma-joo-ski rather than Muh-jesky. "He's in better shape than I heard he was last year. Things are stronger." A couple of hours later, Majewski worked in live batting practice vs. hitters Ryan Freel, Scott Hatteberg and Juan Castro. With most of the Reds' front-office brass watching from behind the cage, including Baker, Majewski provided another encouraging sign. Many of his pitches stayed down and none of the hitters connected too solidly. The past two seasons have mostly been a rough run for Majewski. Turning 28 on Tuesday, he has yet to gain traction with the Reds since a July 2006 trade brought him and lefty Bill Bray from the Nationals for Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez. In two unremarkable stints with the Reds in 2007, Majewski was 0-4 with an 8.22 ERA in 32 games. He allowed 43 hits in just 23 innings. "It's just been frustrating, especially last year," Majewski said. "Things started getting up. My sister passed on. Mentally, it was tough to get back and get after it. I did what I could. I really told myself to bust my butt this year to get back to where I was." The only good news from last year is the shoulder soreness that dogged Majewski since the trade and lingered into the start of last season is behind him. Majewski will be spending the next several weeks fighting for a spot in a Reds bullpen that already has limited space and a surplus of arms. To improve his chances, he spent the offseason working out at a facility near his home in Houston. "Guys worked with me on throwing and I just got into better shape, the shoulder and stuff," Majewski said. "I tweaked a couple of things -- just repetition." Majewski also started watching video of his days in Washington. In 2005, he was one of the better setup men in the National League with a 2.93 ERA in 79 games. "I kind of figured out what I was doing wrong," Majewski said of the video sessions. "It stinks it took this long to figure it out. It seems like it's working now. I just need to keep working at it. A majority of my pitches are where I want them now -- down in the zone instead of belt high where they were hitting them last year."
Strong showings: Majewski wasn't the only pitcher Baker has liked. Right-hander Jared Burton looked very good during his live BP stint on Friday against prospects Jay Bruce and Joey Votto."He was breaking some bats," Baker said. "That ball was moving all over everything." Also praised were prospects Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez and veteran Kent Mercker, who is trying to make the roster after he missed all of last season. Not down with OBP: Baker has repeatedly talked about the desire to have a do-it-all leadoff hitter with speed. What kinds of hitters is he looking for further down the lineup? Does he want guys with lofty on-base percentages? The answer will likely not sit well with fans of the book "Moneyball," because Baker said he believes the OBP statistic is overvalued. "I'm big on driving in runs and scoring runs," Baker said. "Guys in the middle should score about close to equal to what they drive in. On-base percentage, that's fine and dandy. But a lot of times guys get so much into on-base percentage that they cease to swing. It's becoming a little bit out of control. "What you do is run the pitcher's count up, that helps," Baker said. "You put him in the stretch, that helps. But your job in the middle is to either score them or drive them in. The name of the game is scoring runs. Sometimes, you get so caught up in on-base percentage that you're clogging up the bases." Intrasquad info: The Reds will hold an intrasquad game at 12:30 p.m. ET Tuesday at Ed Smith Stadium. The 5 1/2-inning game will have 11 pitchers throw one inning each. Scheduled to pitch are Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Josh Roenicke, Richie Gardner, Cueto, Alexander Smit, Matt Maloney, Daryl Thompson, Sergio Valenzuela, Tyler Pelland and Ramon Ramirez. It hasn't been announced, but Matt Belisle appears in line to start Wednesday's Grapefruit League opener for the Reds vs. the Phillies.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.