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Last spot in Reds' bullpen up for grabs

Last spot in bullpen up for grabs

ST. PETERSBURG -- One of the biggest mysteries still surrounding Spring Training is who will be the final reliever in the Reds' bullpen. With Friday's reassignment of southpaw Bill Bray to Triple-A Louisville, manager Dusty Baker said that the seventh and final slot is a decision the club is still mulling over.

The National League's worst bullpen in 2007, Reds relievers combined for a 5.10 ERA that was also fourth-worst in the Majors.

With the acquisition of closer Francisco Cordero, the team can slide David Weathers into a setup role, where it also has former starter Jeremy Affeldt.

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Baker said Friday morning that he had told Jared Burton, Todd Coffey and Kent Mercker that they are on the team, leaving one relief spot still unspoken for. He also noted that decision could come as early as Saturday morning.

The leading candidates for the job haven't been nearly as clear cut.

Bray was thought to be a favorite until he was reassigned to Triple-A.

Mercker, a non-roster invitee, has already solidified a relief spot, amassing a 2.57 ERA with three strikeouts in seven innings.

Veteran Mike Stanton is under contract for $3 million this season, plus a $500,000 buyout for his 2009 option, and, after a dismal 2007 and a 4.50 ERA this spring, the Reds might look to trade or release him.

Baker did not rule out either possibility, and, as of Friday, Stanton was didn't have a secure spot on the 25-man Opening Day roster.

The leading in-house candidates for the final spot now appear to be righties Jim Brower and Mike Lincoln. Both non-roster invitees, Lincoln has a 5.73 ERA in 11 innings this spring, while Brower has a 9.82 ERA in 7 1/3 innings.

Still, Baker says Spring Training numbers don't concern him as much as a player's "baseball card," meaning his history in seasons past.

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Despite a solid spring, Baker noted Bray's inexperience and susceptibility to injury as two of the main factors in sending the 24-year-old to the Minor Leagues.

Brower spent most of 2007 in the Minors, pitching 3 1/3 innings for the Yankees with a 13.50 ERA. He is a nine-year veteran with a career 33-32 record and a 4.67 ERA. Lincoln has six Major League seasons under his belt, but none since 2004.

Cordero, who started in Friday's game, said he is confident the Reds will make the right choice for the bullpen.

"Baker knows what to do," he said. "It's a really hard decision to make in terms of who to keep and who to take, because it's been nothing but fun" this spring.

Weathers said that regardless of who fills the last spot, the goal remains the same: to produce.

"If we don't get it done, we've got depth at Louisville," Weathers said. "It's all a matter of executing."

Weathers, who is entering his fourth season with the club, said that this has been the strongest Reds bullpen he has seen come out of Spring Training.

And the deliberation over the final decision speaks volumes toward the caliber of this year's competition.

Baker said he wished the 28-man roster could go into effect, but until that day, he is confident in the caliber of the Reds' reserves in Triple-A.

"You never have enough pitching, because you never know what will happen," he said. "You hope to start the season and end the season with what you have, but it never works out that way."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }