DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Pitcher Matt Belisle wouldn't mind having blinders for his eyes, and earphones for his ears, to block out the distractions of his situation. But it probably wouldn't work anyway. Belisle is fighting to make the Reds as the fifth starter. It's hard for him not to think about how close he is to earning it. "It's human nature," Belisle said. "What really brings it up is you don't know where you have to get an apartment set up. That's when it really comes to the forefront, to be honest. You get down to it, you realize that it's almost over and you don't know where you're going. You can't hide from it. It's part of it. It's something I'm relatively used to these past springs."
Belisle's chances for a Cincinnati zip code remained very strong during Sunday's 3-2 loss to Toronto. In four mostly sharp innings, the right-hander allowed two earned runs and four hits with one walk and three strikeouts. Over four big-league games, Belisle has a 2.08 ERA (three earned runs over 13 innings). He's also pitched in two Minor League games, with his last big-league outing on March 12. "You can always be sharper but I feel like each time, I'm progressing right where I want to be," Belisle said. "There are things I know I need to improve but as far when the bell rings, am I ready? You bet." Successful at keeping the ball on the ground, Belisle induced two double plays and faced 14 batters, or two over the minimum, while throwing 53 pitches. He threw an additional two innings of simulated action in the bullpen afterwards. Belisle has done everything he could to be prepared for the roster battle, including pitching in Puerto Rican winter ball. "I came in with the mindset to prepare for that and believe in it," he said. "I have 100 percent confidence in it so I'm ready to take it." Not so fast, however. Belisle doesn't have the inside lane all to himself. Kirk Saarloos and lefty Bobby Livingston have made the choice tougher with good springs of their own. Saarloos worked three innings of three-hit relief Sunday and struck out four. An eighth-inning unearned run scored on third baseman Mark Bellhorn's throwing error that gave Saarloos the loss. Livingston is scheduled to pitch on Monday vs. the Red Sox. "I really try to work on not knowing what's going on with everything else in that regard," Belisle said. "I try to focus on what I know I need to do. It seems like every year, it comes down to the wire like this." Since none of the three pitchers have long track records as big-league starters, manager Jerry Narron and general manager Wayne Krivsky will have plenty to mull over before making a selection. "It won't be easy because they've all pitched well enough to pitch in that fifth spot," Narron said. "There will be some things that we'll discuss on what benefits our club the most -- somebody that might be able to pitch out of the bullpen [or] somebody that needs regular turns in Triple-A. We're not going to have the same five guys all year, I'm sure of it. It'd be nice but I doubt that's going to happen. "It might not be [decided] until we set the rosters on Opening Day of the Major League season."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.