Priest's 2nd chance will come quickly

Thursday, May 28, 1998

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

priest
Eddie Priest reacts after giving up a two-run homer to Brian Johnson in the fifth inning.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |

News travels slowly in the minor leagues. There are a lot more highway miles, and not nearly so many cellular phones. Eddie Priest boarded a bus last week in Pawtucket, R.I., and did not learn that his life had changed until the coach pulled in to Scranton, Pa.

"It was 2:30 in the morning," the Cincinnati Reds new pitcher recalled. "I got off the bus and the trainer said that I was supposed to see the manager before I went to bed. I thought it might have been a demotion, or a trade. I was very surprised."

Dave Miley, who manages the Indianapolis Indians, told Priest he had been summoned to The Show, and then he told him to get some rest. Miley's instruction, of course, was impossible. The ballplayer has yet to be born who could rest while anticipating his first look at the big leagues. Imagine telling your mom Queen Elizabeth was coming to dinner, but don't make a fuss.

"There was no chance I was getting to sleep," Priest said. "I called my wife in Alabama and her and her parents were on the road at 4 a.m. They thought I might be pitching that night."

Southern southpaw

Their haste proved unnecessary, but their patience has been rewarded. For when Eddie Priest made his major-league debut Wednesday afternoon, he was both rested and ready. The left-handed pitcher from Boaz, Ala. -- a deep south southpaw -- stifled the San Francisco Giants for almost five innings before they began banging his best stuff around the lot.

Priest would gain no decision in the Reds' 7-5 comeback victory, but obtained considerable encouragement and priceless experience. He was clearly nervous and not the least bit overpowering, but he looked like a kid who might have a clue.

"The first few innings, he was dazzling," said Reds manager Jack McKeon. "And then they caught up to him. He had some success early with the fastball, and I guess they didn't change the pattern. He's young, and he's going to make some mistakes."

Unless a young pitcher breaks in like Kerry Wood -- pulverizing everything in his path -- it is hazardous to make too much of his first outings. The hitters are still gauging his stuff and studying his tendencies; still preparing to pounce. A lot of rookies will breeze through a lineup the first time through only to get mauled in the middle innings.

Fast progression

This is the fate that befell Eddie Priest Wednesday. He held the Giants to one single for 4 2/3 innings, only to yield five runs before he could secure his first out of the sixth inning.

"We were trying to get him out on a high note," McKeon said, "and it didn't work out."

That said, Eddie Priest was pitching in Double-A as recently as last month. He has been promoted faster than he could possibly have progressed. If the Reds have decided to complete his apprenticeship at the major-league level, Priest probably deserves some indulgence. "I'll do better next time," Priest told Brad Kullman, the Reds assistant for baseball operations.

"You struck out Barry Bonds," Kullman reminded him.

Priest actually retired Bonds twice. In their first meeting, with one out in the first inning and a full count on the three-time Most Valuable Player, Priest threw a changeup that Bonds tapped feebly to shortstop for an inning-ending double play. When the game had ended, and the rookie pitcher had changed into his street clothes, he continued to grip Bonds' double-play ball as a souvenir.

Bonds later retaliated with a two-run homer, and Eddie Priest should have taken something from that, too. If you're going to throw a first-pitch fastball to a first-pitch fastball hitter, you'd better put it in the right place.

"That was my fault," said Eddie Taubensee, the catcher. "He was going so good with his fastball, we tried to go with it one more time."

Eddie Priest will know better next time. He pitched well enough that the next time should be soon.

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com

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