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03/12/07 11:12 PM ET

Mailbag: Closing in on a closer?

Reds beat reporter Mark Sheldon answers fans' questions

Who is the leading candidate to be the closer on the Reds? They really have not stated who appears to be the clear-cut favorite.
-- Vic C., New York, N.Y.

My prediction comes with a big "if" because of his injury history, but my money is on Dustin Hermanson. If Hermanson's back throughout camp remains as good as he says it feels now, his past track record on the mound will carry a lot of weight for the decision-makers. The right-hander had 34 saves in 2005 with the White Sox, and despite not being an overpowering pitcher, he was nearly lights-out until he got injured late in the season.

Currently, the Reds like Todd Coffey in a sixth-through-eighth-inning role. Mike Stanton and David Weathers, the leading candidates to share the ninth entering camp, are better proven in setup roles. Bill Bray is just 23, and manager Jerry Narron said the other day that Bray could probably use a little more experience before becoming a closer.

Do you see the Reds making any major moves between now and Opening Day? I still think they are still a few bats short, but the pitching is headed in the right direction. Your thoughts?
-- Jim B., Louisville, Ky.

GM Wayne Krivsky has proven capable of making any move at just about any time, so nothing would surprise me. But I don't sense the urgency there was last spring to shore up any spots. Last year, Krivsky had just taken over and was scrambling to assemble a roster he liked -- which is why guys like Bronson Arroyo and David Ross were dealt for late in camp and Brandon Phillips was acquired soon after Opening Day.

There could be smaller moves made as camp wears on. Lots of clubs will be cutting or releasing players, and someone could always be a fit.

Is there any chance that Eric Milton will be replaced in the rotation this season? With Paul Wilson coming on strong and the addition of Kirk Saarloos, it seems like it might be hard to keep Milton in the rotation. Plus, there is the wild card of Homer Bailey. What do you think?
-- Jim B., Pikeville Ky.

Well, Jim B. No. 2, the short answer is no. Milton is making $9 million this season and could be the rotation's only left-hander unless Bobby Livingston earns the fifth spot. I don't envision the club paying someone that kind of dough to work in long relief. Saarloos has been impressive to this point but has the benefit of being able to work either in the rotation or bullpen. Wilson had two impressive outings and one bad one so far this spring and is definitely going to be an intriguing option for the fifth spot.

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What's the projected lineup going to be this season? I personally would put Adam Dunn seventh or eighth because of his strikeout totals. What is your opinion?
-- Chuck M., Richmond, Ky.

My opinion is it's a good thing you don't make out the lineup card. Your e-mail account would be full of irate fans questioning your thinking. Seriously, you'd bat a 40-home run hitter eighth?

Here's the regular order I envision the Reds using:

1. Ryan Freel, RF
2. Scott Hatteberg, 1B
3. Ken Griffey Jr., CF
4. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
5. Adam Dunn, LF
6. Brandon Phillips, 2B
7. Alex Gonzalez, SS
8. David Ross, C

I'd put Dunn fifth to break up the lefty hitters a little. If a left-hander is pitching, it's entirely possible Gonzalez would move up to the second spot and Hatteberg would get moved down to sixth or seventh. Or righty Jeff Conine would get slotted in somewhere as the first baseman.

I am an avid baseball fan and have always wondered what is exactly meant by "throwing a simulated game." Do the pitchers throw in a cage to batters or on the field? If on the field, are there baserunners or would they be "imaginary"? Basically, how realistic is the simulated game?
-- Brennan L., Hamilton, Ohio

I just got back from watching Kyle Lohse throw in a simulated game, as a matter of fact. What it means is that a pitcher gets a chance to throw to a rotation of the same three or four hitters, usually from his own team, in the cage. The pitcher will simulate game conditions as far as his pitch selection, velocity and rest between half innings. Hitters don't run the bases, there are no fielders and pitchers don't have to cover first base on a grounder. Usually there's a pitch count limit depending on the situation. The session is a chance for a pitcher to test himself, especially ones coming off an injury, or build arm strength.

I read people's postings and articles about Josh Hamilton being some sort of "feel-good story" or role model. Am I the only person who does not feel this way? Hamilton spent years as a drug addict and just dug himself out of his own mess. Even Bailey has to pitch in Double-A, and hopefully Triple-A. Hamilton gets to skip the upper levels of the Minors altogether as a result of his drug problem. He did not overcome adversity and fight his way to the Majors. He finally passed some drug tests and gets shuttled there because of his raw talent. What kind of example does this guy set for children? (I am a 21-year-old single male UC student, not a parent, but still.)
-- Ted A., Cincinnati

It's an entirely fair question, Ted, and I'm sure you're not alone with your opinion. However, Hamilton skipped several Minor League levels because he was a Rule 5 pick, not because of his drug problem. Tampa Bay exposed him to the draft and he was selected. That happens all the time in baseball. Johan Santana, Jay Gibbons and Dan Uggla reached the Majors ahead of schedule the same way. Certainly, none of those guys had the off-the-field issues Hamilton had. I don't think anyone believes Santana worked any less because he went from "A" ball to the Twins in 2000.

Hamilton has been clean since October 2005, and seems determined to turn his life around. Yes, his superb baseball talent helped get him his second chance in the game and got him selected in the Rule 5, but I don't think his situation endorses the notion that using drugs gets you ahead. And you definitely can't say he hasn't had adversity. He's had more personal adversity crammed into his past five years than anyone would ever wish for in a lifetime. It's almost a miracle that he's still alive, not just that he has any of the ability left in his bat.

If we cast every single person who fell down in some way or made mistakes to the fringes of society, the fringes would become awfully crowded. If he makes it in the Majors and continues to stay away from drugs or alcohol, I think Hamilton could become a positive example and resource for kids and parents. Who better to warn you of the demons than someone who lived with them?

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