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03/07/07 9:57 PM ET

Notes: Guardado moving up timeline

Reliever targers March 16 as return to mound

TAMPA, Fla. -- Wearing a confident grin on his face Wednesday, Eddie Guardado grabbed a pen and jotted something on the rehabilitation calendar taped to his locker.

Under March 16, it read in capital letters, "BIG DAY."

That's when the injured Reds closer is scheduled to make his first pitches off the mound since having ligament replacement surgery performed on his left elbow in September.

"The 16th is the date. We'll see what happens," Guardado said at the Reds spring complex in Sarasota. "Everything is going well so far. You should know when you go off from that slope, you know what I'm saying?"

Originally, Guardado wasn't expected to throw off a mound until closer to the end of Spring Training. The 36-year-old had targeted a return to game action June 22 when Cincinnati visits the left-hander's former team, the Mariners.

"It might be earlier, who knows?" said Guardado, who was eight of 10 in save chances with a 1.29 ERA in 15 appearances until his elbow went out on Aug. 19. The Reds acquired him in a July 6 trade with Seattle.

A fan of fierce workouts, Guardado said he's constantly pushing the Reds medical and training staff to make his rehab and throwing program more challenging.

"Every day, [I say,] 'Let's go! I'm ready, we're ready,'" Guardado said.

The trainers, in turn, have been doing what they can to prevent the left-hander from risking a setback.

"His attitude and his makeup, that works in our favor," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "Our only fear is that it might work against us and he'll try to do too much, too fast."

"It's tough, but I have to be OK with it," Guardado said of the rehab limitations. Currently, he's making 30 throws at a distance of 120 feet. On alternate days, he'll throw from 105 feet.

Signed to a Minor League contract on Feb. 4, Guardado will earn a base salary of $500,000 when he's added to the big-league roster. He can earn an additional $2.6 million in roster and performance bonuses.

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Until Guardado returns, the Reds do not have a closer named to take the ninth inning. David Weathers, Mike Stanton, Todd Coffey and Dustin Hermanson are among several candidates for the role this spring.

Injury report: Reds starter Kyle Lohse, who strained his right hamstring on Friday, threw in a simulated game in Sarasota on Wednesday. The next start date for Lohse isn't known yet.

"We'll probably know in a couple of days," said Narron, who watched the session before heading to Tampa.

One of the batters Lohse faced was Ken Griffey Jr., who was seeing live pitching for the first time this spring. Griffey has been slow to return from a broken hand.

"How close he is, I don't know," Narron said. "I know he still has some soreness."

Battle tested: Before facing the Yankees in his first start of the spring, Reds fifth starter candidate Bobby Livingston didn't even take a look at their starting lineup. He knew New York would use most of its "A" players.

"It's a night game. It's sold out," Livingston said. "They're paying to see those guys. They're not paying [to see] the Double-A and Triple-A guys. I kind of figured I'd see the heart of their lineup."

Sure enough, Livingston stepped on the rubber against Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui, among others. The left-hander was no worse for the wear -- throwing three scoreless innings and allowing five hits and two walks with one strikeout.

Livingston capped his performance by throwing a cut fastball to Rodriguez for a called third strike. Not bad for a confidence boost.

"Anytime you play the Yankees, you want to pitch against those guys," Livingston said. "If you can get those guys out, there's no reason why you couldn't get anybody else out in the big leagues. It was a great feeling to be out there and have that kind of success tonight."

Through two games, Livingston has worked five scoreless innings while looking impressive. He's part of a large pool of fifth starter candidates, including Kirk Saarloos, Matt Belisle, Paul Wilson, Homer Bailey, Victor Santos and Elizardo Ramirez, who worked three innings in relief Wednesday.

Of that group, only Wilson and Bailey have gotten starts. Narron wasn't sure if or when the others would get chances to start a game.

"I really don't know if it's that important," he said. "Right now, we're just trying to get as many innings from those potential fifth guys as possible. The only thing is you get innings sometimes off of guys that have no chance of playing in the big leagues. You'd like to make it as even as possible when there's competition."

Fashion statement: Reds players have dutifully worn the new-look red and black batting practice caps with the red "C" all spring during workouts and games. But on Wednesday, Narron had on the team's regular home red cap. What gives?

"I forgot it," Narron responded. "I just picked up the wrong hat ... for about the last two weeks."

Coming up: Aaron Harang will make his second start when the Reds play the Tigers in Sarasota on Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Nate Robertson is scheduled to start for Detroit. Former Reds player Sean Casey is not expected to make the trip with the Tigers.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.