Notes: Young arms may join 'pen
Volquez, Cueto aiming to start, but could land relief jobs
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Add a new wrinkle to the crowded competition for Reds rotation spots, and the ones in the bullpen, too.Should young pitchers like Edinson Volquez or Johnny Cueto not win a starting spot, a ticket to Triple-A Louisville isn't automatic. "Not necessarily," manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday. Keeping them in the big league bullpen is also a possibility. "I come from the Dodger way," said Baker, who played in Los Angeles in the 1970s and '80s. "Young guys that aren't pitching, the next best thing is long relief. It's probably the least pressurized situation on a pitching staff. You're either coming in behind or losing. We did it with Dave Burba in San Francisco, and he ended up winning nine or 10 games from the bullpen." Cueto, 22, pitched one perfect inning with two strikeouts in a strong showing during Tuesday's intrasquad game. Volquez, 24, has also impressed the club with his stuff during camp. Homer Bailey, Matt Belisle, Jeremy Affelfdt, Josh Fogg and Matt Maloney are also under consideration for the rotation. Pedro Martinez, Roy Oswalt and Johan Santana are some elite starting pitchers that began their careers in a relief role. Cueto pitched at three levels and reached Triple-A last season. Volquez, acquired in December's Josh Hamilton trade to the Rangers, has previously had three brief tastes of the Majors. "A lot of young guys start out in long relief," Baker said. "Nolan Ryan started out in long relief. I remember he couldn't make that starting rotation in New York. Most people don't remember Nolan Ryan out of the bullpen." Affeldt starts: Affeldt started Wednesday's Reds' Grapefruit League opener, an 8-1 loss to the Phillies. The lefty gave up one earned run and three hits in two innings with a strikeout. He worked a perfect first inning before encountering a jam in the second. The run scored on a 4-6-3 double play by Geoff Jenkins. "I felt like I worked out of the jam pretty well and got the double play ball," Affeldt said. "I felt a lot better out of my stretch still rather than my windup. My windup is coming along. I just feel a little late and my stuff isn't as effective."
Affeldt, trying to convert from a reliever to starter, worked exclusively from the stretch the past year and a half with the Rockies. He's developing a changeup as a third pitch, but didn't use it Wednesday."Affeldt threw the ball well today," Baker said. "He showed pretty good command of his breaking balls." Helmet law: With Grapefruit League games under way, fans might notice something different about the coaches on the first- and third-base lines. A new rule passed in the offseason mandates that Major and Minor League base coaches wear helmets. The only part that's optional is whether it has ear flaps or not. Reds first-base coach Billy Hatcher and third-base coach Berry both chose helmets without flaps. "I don't agree with it," Berry said about the rule. "I think it should be optional. Umpires don't have to wear them. Why not them, but we do? It's just uncomfortable. You feel like it's going to fall off. They do make inserts for hats, like in the old days. They could make a hard shell that goes inside your hat." The helmet rule was instituted by league general managers in the wake of Rockies Double-A first-base coach Mike Coolbaugh, who was killed after being struck below his ear by a line drive last July. Heads up: The last time center fielder Ryan Freel played at Bright House Field, he was a little worse for the wear. In an exhibition game last March, he robbed Aaron Rowand when he made a spectacular -- but scary -- diving catch as he crashed head-first into the wall. Freel had to leave that game for X-rays and had sore ribs and a sore back. "Best catch I ever made," Freel said on Wednesday. "That was fun. No regrets." Unfortunately, no video of the play exists because that game wasn't televised. "Nobody else saw that one, just the people here locally." Injury report: First baseman Scott Hatteberg was scratched from Wednesday's lineup because of the flu. Joey Votto started at first base. Catcher David Ross also didn't make the trip because of lower back spasms. Paul Bako made the start behind the plate. Up next: The Reds will host the Twins at Ed Smith Stadium on Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Matt Belisle will start for the Reds with Francisco Cordero, Fogg, Mike Lincoln, Kent Mercker, Mike Stanton and David Weathers are also expected to pitch. Scott Baker is scheduled to start for Minnesota.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.