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Lohse settles in at new home

Lohse settles in at new Spring Training home

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Kyle Lohse has gotten used to not having a white "T" and a red "C" on his baseball cap, but the Reds right-hander didn't shake the withdrawal easily.

"It's pretty different, 'cause like the last six years you're used to walking in one clubhouse and knowing where everything is," Lohse said. "You walk in here, and I wasn't sure where to come in.

"That's a different feeling -- a little awkward feeling."

Yet, he's had no choice but to put his Twins past out of his mind. Sarasota and the Reds aren't the Twins and Fort Myers any more than Cincinnati is Minneapolis or the National League is the American League.

But in his first Spring Training away from the Twins organization, Lohse might have found a more homelike environ here with the Reds. He can look around their clubhouse and see old friends from his Minneapolis days.

Eric Milton is here, as are Eddie Guardado, Javier Valentin and Juan Castro. They have made Lohse feel at home, which means saying farewell for good to his old home.

"That's one of the things I had to do from Day 1, you know," he said. "You're with a new team and you're trying to help them reach the playoffs.

"But you keep the friendships with the guys back there; you keep in touch; you still check out how they did the night before -- whatever."

He understands that he needed to close that chapter, as difficult as that might have been to do. He's got to keep his focus on where he is today and what he's expected to do here. And the expectations are every bit as high in Sarasota as they were in Fort Myers.

Nobody sees Lohse as a pitcher with lesser potential, even if he hasn't fulfilled what baseball people called grand promise. He remains a talented pitcher who has yet to put all the pieces together. He's shown glimpses of great things, but the consistency of his work, well ... that consistency has eluded the 28-year-old Lohse, who came to the Reds in a trade July 31.

"It seemed like when he got into a little trouble, the game could get away from him a little bit," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "He'd have a big inning and go right back out and give you two or three good innings.

"He's gotta be able to stop that bleeding."

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Few doubt that Lohse has that ability. One baseball magazine wrote, "Kyle Lohse can blow hitters away as well as anybody on any given night, but the Reds would like to see those nights come more often."

Narron echoed the magazine's sentiments. From late last season to the earlier days of Spring Trainning, he's seen nothing but quality in Lohse's stuff -- stuff that's on par with Aaron Harang's and Bronson Arroyo's.

"The arm is there; the pitches are there," Narron said of Lohse. "It's just a matter of if he can command it."

That's been what has dogged Lohse since he signed a professional contract with the Chicago Cubs in May 1997. Two years later, the Cubs included him in a four-player deal with the Twins, where he broke into the bigs on June 21, 2001.

Six years later, Lohse still searches for a complete season -- one without the ups and downs that have pockmarked his baseball dossier.

Sure, he's had a 13- and a 14-win season, but they seem more like yesteryear's memories than a portrait of Lohse today. But if any season can be one which might turn that great promise into an All-Star performance, this season should be it.

Lohse is older; Lohse is smarter -- smart enough to know what might await him at the end of this year's baseball rainbow.

"Next year, I'll be a free agent," he said. "So in that aspect, it will be big -- having a good year or not. We'll see what happens after that."

What he's counting on to happen is that, finally, the pieces of what has been his personal puzzle will all fit into place. They'll fit into place with the Reds and not with the Twins, the team and the teammates there that weaned him into the bigs.

"As far as that stuff, you've just got to put it in the past and move," Lohse said. "That's the way you gotta treat it."

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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