Reds to relax rules in farm system

Reds to relax rules in their farm system

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Whether they're watching potential future Reds at games in Sarasota, Dayton or Billings, fans who come out should notice the same thing this year ... which actually will be something different.

Pitchers will have the ability to work longer. Hitters can go into the batter's box swinging away.

The edict, under the previous front office regime of general manager Dan O'Brien, was that all starting pitchers below Double-A were held to strict pitch counts of 75. The lower Minor League teams had to employ an eight-man tandem rotation and have two starting pitchers ready to work every fourth day.

All hitters were instructed to take the first strike before they could swing in order for them to develop patience at the plate. Opposing pitchers knowing the Reds' organizational hitting rules going in were often able to get ahead with 0-1 counts.

Those blanket policies are now out of Cincinnati's farm system.

"Everybody is different," said Johnny Almaraz, a longtime member of the organization who was promoted to Reds player development director last month. "Everybody deserves to be given an individual plan that's best suited for them."

Other organizations, namely the Rangers, have employed similar rules for its pitchers. Proponents feel it could cut down on the number of arm injuries and get younger players used to throwing more often. Detractors believe pitchers didn't learn how to win or bear down when they got into late-inning jams. Even if a starter had a no-hitter or shutout going through five innings or seven, he was out of the game once he reached his limit.

The new Reds plan doesn't eliminate the notion of pitch counts for younger pitchers. It's just a little more flexible than in the past.

"I'm structuring a program that's going to be individualized based on 'X' pitcher," Almaraz said. "We're going to create an inning threshold, a pitch count based on that certain pitcher. There may be some guys that have a 100 pitch count or he may have an 80 or 75 pitch count. It all depends on the person's strength, arm action and mechanics. All of that will play a role in our decision making."

On the move: Right-hander Mike Burns, who was claimed off the waiver wire from the Astros organization last fall, has thrown three shutout innings over his first two games this spring.

Names in the game: Former Reds left-hander Tom Browning has been a guest instructor in camp this spring. Browning mainly is helping fellow southpaws and offering advice.

They're No. 1: Right-handed reliever Ryan Wagner, the 14th overall selection by Cincinnati in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, is trying to earn a spot in the Reds bullpen again after he missed most of the second half of last season with right shoulder inflammation. Through two innings of work in two games this spring, Wagner has allowed three earned runs, two hits and three walks.

Class of '05: Left-hander Travis Wood, the organization's second-round draft pick, was 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in his first year of professional baseball at the Gulf Coast League Reds and Pioneer League Billings rookie levels.

What they're saying: "Those are three prospects we believe will help us at the Major League level some day." -- Almaraz, on young pitchers Homer Bailey, Phil Dumatrait and Travis Chick

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