Notes: Reds' rotation battle heating up

Notes: Reds' rotation battle heating up

ST. PETERSBURG -- For candidates seeking spots in the Reds' rotation, their spring outings only get more crucial from here.

The chances at innings will get more scarce and how a pitcher reacts to increased pressure will be watched closer.

"This is a great point in spring where you're putting it all into the final run," starting pitcher Matt Belisle said. "You're trying to get locked in and extend yourself. You just try to fill the quota they give you and make them hit it."

Belisle made his third start of the spring on Sunday vs. the Rays and turned in mixed results. The right-hander gave up one unearned run and two hits with a strikeout, but walked three batters.

At two points where the game could have spiraled away from him, Belisle recovered well. He had the bases loaded with no outs in the first inning and escaped with a 1-2-3 double play by Jonny Gomes and then struck out Willy Aybar.

Staked to 6-0 lead with six Reds runs in the top of the second, Belisle responded by walking his first two batters in the Rays' half of the inning. It brought Baker out to the mound for the first time this spring where he didn't make a pitching change.

"[He said] basically, forget everything up to this point and get after it right now [while] staring in my eye," Belisle said with nervous laughter. "I'll just put it like that."

After the next batter reached on a fielding error by shortstop Jeff Keppinger, Belisle retired his final five batters.

"Coming out there in the second with a leadoff walk is unacceptable," said Belisle, who is 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA this spring. "I'm going to focus on that last inning. I felt good. I felt in sync and I kept the ball down."

Prior to the game, Baker was pleased with how the rotation battle is going. Outside of the top two spots with Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, nothing is set in stone.

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"I'm not a one-time-pitch-bad guy and you're off the list," Baker said. "I'm not a one-time-pitch-great guy and jump on your bandwagon. I'm not that kind of guy. There's been plenty of competition. It's a matter of how open-minded we allow ourselves to remain.

Baker was asked if by open-minded, if he meant considering younger pitchers like Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez or Homer Bailey.

"Quite frankly, I get tired of young or old. It's good or bad and good or great," he said. "You have to give Belisle some strong consideration because he pitched 170 innings last year and went 8-9. You have to leave some room for improvement. If you pitch good enough, they'll have to be on the team for you somewhere. If you pitch good enough, long enough, you'll be pretty close to being somewhere on the team."

Nice showing: Squeezed because of camp numbers and innings wiped out by rain, Daryl Thompson finally got to pitch for the Reds on Sunday. He didn't waste the opportunity.

Thompson, who was part of the 2006 eight-player trade with the Nationals, struck out the side in the seventh inning. Last season, the right-hander split time at Class A Dayton and Sarasota.

"Thompson was great," Baker said. "That was his first appearance. He looked like he'd been out there before, especially a guy from A-ball. He hadn't pitched hardly at all because of all the people we have. I'd like to give him another look. He's earned it."

Up next: The Reds will head to Tampa Monday for a 7:15 p.m. ET game against the Yankees at Legends Field. Homer Bailey will make his third start for Cincinnati, with Edinson Volquez among the handful of hurlers slated to follow. Joba Chamberlain will start for New York.

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