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03/26/08 10:17 PM ET
Ross plays in first spring game
Catcher missed most of camp with back spasms
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Something happened on catcher David Ross' way to the disabled list.
On Wednesday night, Ross played in his first game of Spring Training. The 31-year-old had missed most of camp with lower back spasms.
"We're trying it," manager Dusty Baker said. "We were wrestling between keeping him down and using less days on the DL once the season started with the retroactive process. But he's making pretty good progress. I still don't know if it's enough time to get everything together and not thwart Javy [Valentin] and [Paul] Bako's progress."
With a line of no hits, no runs and no spasms, Ross caught five innings against Toronto and went 0-for-2. He was called out on strikes in the second inning and grounded out in front of the plate in the fifth, but he ran out the ball all the way to first base.
If Ross had stayed out of big league games and gone on the disabled list, he could have returned as soon as April 5. If he has to go on the DL after playing on Wednesday, his earliest return would be on April 11.
To Ross, it's is a moot issue.
"That's up to them. I feel like I'm ready," Ross said. "I've gotten 30 at-bats on the back fields so far. I've caught six innings on back-to-back days."
Ross has played in Minor League games since Thursday without any soreness, but he has rarely caught for any members of the big league pitching staff, including new starters Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, which would require a very advanced learning curve with just a few days until camp breaks.
"That's the main concern. I want to catch as much as I can, especially the guys I haven't caught before," Ross said. "That's been my biggest fear about missing so much time. I can catch up on the at-bats, but I've only caught the bullpen [sessions]. Everybody knows that unless you catch [the pitchers] in a game, you don't know exactly what they do in certain situations."
Last season, Ross batted .203 in 112 games with 17 home runs and 39 RBIs. His return could throw a wrench into some of the final roster decisions. Bako, a non-roster invitee, was expected to make the team if Ross stayed out. If the Reds keep Bako as a third catcher behind Ross and Valentin, someone else will lose out on the final bench spot.
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Oddly enough, Ross recently realized that his back problems stemmed from a pair of orthotic inserts that jammed on his heel. He's ditched them and ordered a new set.
"I wished we figured it out a little sooner," he said.
In other camp developments, starting pitcher Matt Belisle threw 55 pitches in three innings of a Triple-A game on Wednesday afternoon. Belisle has missed two starts with a sore right forearm, which has likely ended his shot at making the rotation out of camp.
Outfielder Ryan Freel departed Wednesday's game in the middle of the fourth inning because of the flu.
Two Reds left camp this week because of personal issues. Both outfielder Norris Hopper and pitcher Mike Stanton are dealing with family emergencies.