10/22/2003 1:16 PM ET
Reds protecting their young arms
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- The Reds' care and feeding of their young pitchers didn't end with the regular season.
Having imposed pitch limits on each hurler in the organization, club officials were judicious in selecting pitchers for the Arizona Fall League and winter ball. They also closely monitored the pitchers' workloads during instructional league.
Faced with a rising incidence of arm injuries that crested this season when Chris Gruler, the team's No. 1 pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, was sidelined after undergoing shoulder surgery, the Reds are proceeding as if that familiar wishbone "C" on their caps stood for "caution."
"We're looking toward the future," said Johnny Almaraz, the special assistant to the general manager and senior advisor of player development, who helped implement Cincinnati's pitching program. "We want to make sure these kids are healthy and able to help us for the next few years to come. We want to make sure we're smart and don't abuse arms past what we think is a red flag."
This mindset prompted the Reds to end the seasons of right-hander Ryan Wagner and left-hander Brandon Claussen, two of their top pitching prospects, prematurely. Wagner, Cincinnati's first-round draft pick in June, who made his Major League debut a month and a half later, was ordered to stop throwing in early September. Claussen, acquired from the New York Yankees in the Aaron Boone trade, was shut down in late August.
The Reds' struggle to produce successful pitchers, especially starters, has approached monumental proportions. Tom Browning was the club's last "home-grown" 20-game winner (1985) and the last pitcher brought up within the system to lead the team in wins in back-to-back seasons (1989-90).
It's already a given that pitcher development, not just player development, will be a leading priority for the Reds' next general manager when he's named later this week or early next week. The three finalists for the vacancy are Montreal GM Omar Minaya, Texas Rangers assistant GM Dan O'Brien and Minnesota Twins assistant GM Wayne Krivsky.
Thus the Reds would rather see prospects save their arms rather than show them off. "We want to err on the side of conservatism in their workload," said assistant general manager Brad Kullman.
One way the Reds are trying to accomplish this is by tailoring a throwing regimen to fit each pitcher "instead of having one blanket program for 70 different pitchers," said Almaraz. "Everybody's different -- physically, mentally and ability-wise."
Known for hastening the ascent of prospects to the Majors, the Reds won't necessarily stop pushing their most promising minor leaguers. Wagner's instant transition from the University of Houston to Cincinnati's bullpen demonstrated this. But the team will try not to exhaust pitchers while elevating them.
Kullman cited Phil Dumatrait, the left-hander obtained from Boston in the Scott Williamson trade, as an example of the Reds' new discipline. In years past the Reds might have been tempted to find a spot in winter ball or in the Arizona Fall League for Dumatrait, who's likely to be placed on the 40-man roster after finishing 12-9 with a 2.79 ERA.
But Dumatrait's accumulation of 142 innings told the Reds that he was done for the year. "We felt he had proved enough in one year," said Kullman.
Kullman also cited prospects Tyler Pelland and Thomas Pauly as examples. Though both are pitching at Cincinnati's instructional league camp, they're under strict pitch counts, leaving them to concentrate just as much on holding runners and covering first base as on firing fastballs. "We can monitor exactly what they do and keep [pitch counts] very, very low," said Kullman.
We either make ourselves happy or miserable.
The amount of work is the same.