Livingston tightens Reds' No. 5 race

Livingston tightens Reds' No. 5 race

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Just like Matt Belisle did one day earlier, Bobby Livingston made another solid case that he belongs as the fifth starter in the Reds' rotation on Monday.

But despite his best efforts, one of them is going to lose out. Either Belisle or Livingston will begin in the season at Triple-A Louisville.

Meanwhile, the rotation's third starter, Eric Milton, is not having a very good spring.

Livingston more than held his own against the Red Sox and Japanese superstar Daisuke Matsuzaka on Monday. The lefty allowed one hit over five scoreless innings but received a no-decision in the game won by Cincinnati, 5-0. Livingston issued one walk and struck out four.

"I was really happy with the way I pitched," Livingston said. "I think I could have thrown my curveball a little better. But I threw my other pitches well, and I thought I hit my spots well today."

Livingston's most challenging inning was the third, when he allowed a single before walking Matsuzaka. He got out of it with a ground-ball double play and a strikeout.

In five spring games, Livingston has a 1.23 ERA, having allowed two earned runs over 14 2/3 innings.

"He gives us a lot of confidence in him that [will be evident] if not in the beginning of the season, definitely some time during the season," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "That's great to see."

The fifth starter's job will come down to Belisle, Livingston and Kirk Saarloos. Belisle, who allowed two earned runs and four hits while walking one and striking out three on Sunday vs. Toronto, has a 2.08 ERA in his four games. Saarloos, who is versatile and can be a starter or a reliever, is assured a roster spot. He had one bad outing this spring and has posted a 5.02 ERA in five games.

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"That's all I can do, make their decision hard on them," said Livingston, who was acquired from the Mariners in a December waiver claim. "I can't do much more than that. Whatever they decide, I'm sure it will be best for the team. From my standpoint, I don't think I can do much more to prove anything else, other than to just keep doing what I'm doing."

Livingston understood that performances wouldn't necessarily be the bottom line in the decision.

"I still have [Minor League] options left, and there are a lot of things that play into the factors," Livingston said. "I have no expectations until they tell me something. I expect to make the team, but if not and they choose otherwise, I'll be fine with that, too. They'll make a decision that benefits the team. I'm like everyone else -- I want to make the team, but I don't have any control over it. Their final decision is going to be their final decision."

The Reds shifted Milton's scheduled start to a Minor League game so that they could get another look at Livingston. Milton fared far worse on one of the back fields, with the wind blowing out against the Pirates' Class A squad.

Milton's line was six runs and 11 hits -- including five home runs -- over six innings. He threw 93 pitches.

In his four spring starts in big-league games, Milton is 0-1 with a 6.59 ERA. In the final year of a three-year, $25.5 million contract that will pay him $9 million this season, the 31-year-old is 16-23 with a 5.89 ERA in 60 career starts with the Reds.

Because of his high salary, it's unlikely that Milton's status in the rotation -- or on the roster -- would be in jeopardy. But with Milton being the context of a reporter's question, Narron didn't exactly offer an overwhelming endorsement in his answer when asked if the top four spots of the rotation were still set.

"That's what we've planned all along," Narron said.

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