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03/14/07 12:55 AM ET

Notes: Harang has best start of spring

Reds starter up to challenge of tough Yankees lineup

TAMPA, Fla. -- With the visitor's clubhouse air conditioning going full blast a couple of hours before his start against the Yankees Tuesday night, the Reds' Aaron Harang craved some Florida warmth.

So Harang stood on the top of the Reds dugout steps with pitching coach Dick Pole. Discussion eventually shifted to Matt Belisle's crisp four-shutout-inning performance vs. Toronto on Monday.

"That's what we're looking for tonight," Pole said, turning towards Harang with a smile.

"You're putting pressure on me," Harang joked.

Pole figured Harang, a 16-game winner and National League strikeout leader in 2006, was more than good enough to handle it.

"I knew it from over there [with the Cubs]," said Pole, Chicago's bench coach last season. "We didn't like him on the other side. But now I like him."

In his third start, Harang came through with his best outing of the spring. The right-hander allowed two earned runs and eight hits over 4 2/3 innings without a walk and two strikeouts. Three of the Yankees' hits were kept in the infield. Cincinnati won the game, 6-3.

Harang, who allowed five earned runs in his previous five innings in two starts, made some mechanical adjustments between starts that helped him keep his fastball down.

"I felt a lot better," said Harang, who made 77 pitches Tuesday. He is 2-1 with a 6.52 ERA in his three starts.

New York almost used its entire regular lineup, including Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez in the top four spots. Like that clubhouse AC, Harang characteristically kept his cool.

"I was down there warming up and listening [to the public address announcements] and I hadn't even seen their lineup," Harang said. "I just rolled my eyes and said, 'C'mon.' It just prepared me for the season. It's good. It makes you focus and execute your pitches."

Spring Training
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Getting defensive: Reds slugger Adam Dunn's diligence this spring to get better as a hitter has already drawn praise. But Dunn's commitment to becoming an improved left fielder defensively has drawn raves, too.

A 40-home run hitter the past three seasons, Dunn has been considered below average in the field, and he committed 13 errors last season. Throughout camp, he has spent extra time on the back fields with coaches Billy Hatcher and Ed Napoleon going over the finer points of outfield defense -- like going back on balls, reading balls hit off the bat, taking a quicker first step and better throwing techniques.

"He was dedicated, but he didn't put in the time to get better," Hatcher said of Dunn's effort last season. "That's one thing with baseball. The more years you get, the harder you have to work. He didn't work as hard defensively last year, and it showed. He came here the first day of Spring Training and wants to get better. He's out here working. He's doing everything. He wants to be an all-around ballplayer, so he's putting in the time to get better."

In a challenging second-inning play vs. New York, Dunn couldn't come up with Jorge Posada's drive to the warning track in spite of a diving attempt. Posada picked up a double on the play.

Hamilton hit ticker: Rule 5 pick Josh Hamilton continued his productive spring Tuesday by going 2-for-2 with two RBIs, a sacrifice fly and a walk as the center fielder. That raised Hamilton's average to .571 (16-for-28).

In the first inning, Hamilton got an RBI single off Mike Mussina with a roller through the right side. After a sacrifice fly to left field in the third, Hamilton reached on a squib to second base against Mariano Rivera. Robinson Cano's difficult throw sailed over first base, but Hamilton was credited with a hit.

Before the game, Reds manager Jerry Narron was asked if he'd have any concern about using Hamilton in the regular season if the 25-year-old made the team.

"I wouldn't be afraid to," Narron said. "The one thing that has surprised me more than anything about him in a very good way has been his plate discipline. The layoff, three years really, to have that kind of plate discipline is impressive. I know it's early in spring and we haven't seen a guy like Mike Mussina at his best. [Hamilton] does not go up there like he's in any kind of hurry or rush or panic or anything. He's in control and knows what he's doing."

Coming up: Bronson Arroyo will get his second Grapefruit League start when the Reds host the Devil Rays in Sarasota Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Top prospect Homer Bailey will also see action. Edwin Jackson is Tampa Bay's scheduled starter.

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