Monday, June 26, 2000

Don't blame everything on McKeon

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A lot of Reds players want to vote Jack McKeon off the island. They question his moves. They wonder if he's on their side. One wondered recently what it would be like to play for Dusty Baker or Buddy Bell, two reputed motivators of men.

        But laying this so-far Titanic season all on McKeon is like blaming the cars in California for the smog in New York. It would be good, though, if the manager could get ahead in the count. It would put him one up on the rest of his pitching staff.

        Even Osvaldo Fernandez is not immune. The San Francisco Giants refugee had been a savior, but on Sunday he couldn't throw strikes. The San Diego Padres, not to be confused with the '27 Yankees, got Fernandez for three runs in the third inning, on two singles, two walks and two sacrifice flies.

        The Padres held on to beat Cincinnati 5-4, the Reds' 14th loss in the last 18. The entire season distills now to the next 11 days, 14 if you count the three games with the Indians leading to the All-Star break.

Now or never
        Beginning tonight, it's seven with the Cardinals and four with Arizona. Another two weeks like the last two weeks, and you can hit the eject button on the pennant race. The house will be cleaned.

        Someone asked McKeon Sunday about the pressure of playing St. Louis the next four days. “Here was a last-place club,” McKeon said of San Diego, “and we didn't beat them.”

        The reason is the pitching. It's not good enough.

        Look at the matchups the next four nights: A five-game winner (Denny Neagle) against a nine-game winner (Garrett Stephenson); a 3-10 pitcher (Steve Parris) against a 6-6 (Pat Hentgen). On Wednesday, it's tentatively Elmer Dessens (zero starts) against 7-3 Andy Benes. Finally, Ron Villone (5.51 ERA) goes against 10-4 Darryl Kile on Thursday afternoon.

        The Reds somehow will miss Randy Johnson on the trip to Arizona. But they'll still face eight-game winner Todd Stottlemyre and seven-game winner Brian Anderson.

        What you hear from the Reds about that is multiple ifs: If Pete Harnisch can come back ... if Scott Williamson gets himself straightened out ... if Scott Sullivan and Dennys Reyes can rediscover 1999.

        You don't win anything with pitching ifs. If you must continue hoping the Reds will contend this summer, bear that in mind.

        When the Reds acquired Ken Griffey Jr., McKeon's muted reaction was, paraphrasing here, “That's nice, but we still need pitching.”

        Neagle seemed fine back then, but Harnisch was an If. Villone was an If. Parris? If.

Cards went for pitching
        The Cardinals went hot and heavy for starting pitching in the offseason. They got so much, they traded a 20-game winner (Kent Bottenfield) for center fielder Jim Edmonds. And here they are, with an 81/2-game hammerlock on the division.

        McKeon isn't blameless. Given the shaky middle relief, his hook is still too quick. He makes debatable moves that are magnified with each loss. Why would he have Williamson pitching to Tony Gwynn last weekend? But at least McKeon doesn't walk anybody.

        Three weeks ago, the Reds were in first place. Then “the pitching went sour,” said McKeon. “(Then) everything went sour.”

        Every team needs pitching. Some need it more than others.

        Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.