HOUSTON -- Injured Reds closer Eddie Guardado's long rehabilitation from elbow surgery is continuing to reach promising milestones. Guardado is scheduled to face hitters in a live batting practice setting on Monday in Cincinnati. He expected to throw 15-20 pitches, all fastballs. "We're getting somewhere," Guardado said on Thursday. "I'll either have my confidence go down or it will go up."
Guardado has not pitched in a game since August and had ligament replacement surgery performed on his left elbow in September. The 36-year-old left-hander is on the 60-day disabled list, but made the 10-day road trip with the Reds. He has a $500,000 salary that can increase to $3.1 million with various incentives. The rehab has moved slowly and the steps have been incremental. Guardado began throwing off of a mound again in March. Last week, he was permitted to mix in some breaking pitches for the first time. His next bullpen session of 35-40 pitches is slated for Friday. But seeing how his elbow fares when he throws to hitters will be Guardado's biggest test yet. "All I'm worried about is how I feel the next day," said Guardado, who hopes to return by the end of June. "It's always the tester. You get the blood running and everything can feel good, but it's the next day when you see how you feel." Not picky about pickoffs: How's this for efficiency? In Wednesday's 3-1 loss, reliever Mike Stanton worked one-third of an inning -- and threw zero pitches. Called on to face Lance Berkman with two outs in the eighth inning and runners on the corners, Stanton picked off Houston rookie Hunter Pence at first base. "I'll take a bucket load of those," joked Stanton, who said he's had that happen a couple of times before. "I'll take them any way I can get them." Pence told the Houston media he had never seen a move like Stanton's. Then again, Pence has only been in the Majors for a couple of days. Stanton knew that too. "I figured the first-base coach was in his ear, but being a young guy, he hadn't seen me," Stanton said. "I don't know how much he saw that one. What I'm looking for is for them to make that jab step. If they go to second and I can get the ball on the [right] side of the bag, they're usually out. A lot of times they never see it because when they take the jab step, they're looking at home." The diplomat? Several hours before Thursday's game, right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. was on the field watching a charity home run derby with players from the NFL's Houston Texans. Few balls cleared the fences. On the side, Griffey chatted with several Texans players but avoided teasing them about their lack of hitting prowess. "They're bigger than me, even the kicker," Griffey joked. "There will be a lot of stomachs, obliques and rib cages sore tomorrow." Perhaps Griffey was testing his diplomacy skills. He said he recently received a letter from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice asking if he would like to be a "public diplomat." "I have to figure out which country," Griffey said. "We're going to meet when we go to Washington. We'll talk about it if our schedules line up. I'm excited about it. Hopefully, things work out." The genesis of the idea came out of a golf outing with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of President George W. Bush. On Thursday, Griffey batted third in Cincinnati's lineup for the first time this season. He was in the third spot most of last season but has batted fourth or fifth this season. Farm report: Outfielder and 2005 first-round draft pick Jay Bruce was 2-for-4 with two home runs and three RBIs in Class A Sarasota's 8-2 win over Clearwater on Wednesday. Outfielder-turned-pitcher Rick Asadoorian worked a scoreless ninth in the game and hasn't allowed a run in his last six appearances. Coming up: The Reds begin a seven-game homestand with a three-game series against the Rockies that opens Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Matt Belisle (3-1, 3.45) will pitch for Cincinnati against Colorado's Jason Hirsh (2-2, 3.41 ERA).
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.