GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Three Reds pitchers -- Mat Latos, Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall -- are moving ever so close to being back on the corner of happy and healthy. At the same time, the club is also looking at alternate avenues, just in case.
The closest to returning is Latos, who began camp by having left knee surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage on Feb. 14. The starting pitcher faced hitters for the first time on Friday while throwing 20 pitches of live batting practice to teammates Brayan Pena and Chris Nelson.
"Everything was good. I was a little anxious, a little nervous. My mechanics are definitely rusty," Latos said. "I can't complain for the first time out facing live hitters. I was a little amped up. All in all, I'm satisfied. There are a couple of tweaks and adjustments I need to make."
Latos was throwing all of his pitches, it appeared, with solid contact -- on a hit to the outfield -- coming only once.
Broxton, who has spent camp working his way back from August right forearm surgery to repair a torn flexor mass, had his latest bullpen session on Friday. He threw 38 pitches in the bullpen with someone standing near the plate to simulate a batter.
Marshall, who has been bothered by a sore left shoulder, threw a 22-pitch bullpen session in his first mound work of camp a couple of mounds from where Broxton was working.
Of course, the big question that remains is who among the three pitchers could be ready in time to start the regular season.
"I have no idea what's going to go on," said Latos, who also had October surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. "This was a small step in the right direction. Now we have to do what's next."
Latos is expected to get into his first game next week, possibly Wednesday. Over 32 starts in 2013, he was 14-7 with a 3.16 ERA. In 210 2/3 innings, he allowed 197 hits and struck out 187 batters with 58 walks.
Manager Bryan Price said it was possible for Latos to be on the Opening Day roster.
"I'm still optimistic that Mat could be ready to pitch -- it'd basically be as the fifth starter for timing reasons," Price said before Latos' throwing session.
The Reds probably wouldn't need their fifth starter until April 6 vs. the Mets, which would buy Latos some extra time. He would obviously need to get into some games and be able to throw between 90-100 pitches before getting the green light.
If Latos had to begin the season on the disabled list, the top candidate to replace him in the rotation would be reliever Alfredo Simon. Being stretched out, Simon has a 4.05 ERA in his four starts this spring and has looked very good in three of the outings.
"He's doing a terrific job," Price said. "I know he'd love to start. We'd like our rotation intact if they're all healthy. We'd love having Freddy in our bullpen. That being said, if we need a starter, he's certainly pitched his tail off. He deserves that chance."
If Simon were to move into the rotation, that might open three spots in the bullpen. Price acknowledged Broxton and Marshall are unlikely to be ready in time for the regular season. Of the two, Marshall -- who was limited to 16 games last season because of shoulder issues -- is furthest from being game ready. Broxton could see action in the same game as Latos.
"We're not going to put the kibosh definitely on Broxton until we've let him get out there and pitch and see how he recovers," Price said. "We don't want to put anyone on speed-up rules and not start the season -- not just healthy but ready to handle the rigors of what we ask them to do.
"They've got to be able to do what the other guys are doing -- pitch back-to-back games and have the durability necessary to be able to help us in that way."
If Broxton and Marshall aren't available to begin the season, a few relievers have been impressive and could win jobs. Pedro Beato, who was picked up off waivers from the Red Sox in October, has five scoreless innings in five appearances. Nick Christiani, who had his first big league callup with Cincinnati last season, has given up one run in four innings over four games.
Non-roster invitees Trevor Bell and Jose "Jumbo" Diaz have also had strong showings.
Bell, a 2005 first-round Draft pick and big leaguer with the Angels from 2009-11, pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings in his five games after recording 17 saves at Double-A Pensacola last season. Diaz, who dropped 69 pounds in the offseason to go from 347 to 278 pounds, has given up one run in five innings over five appearances. He had 13 saves last season for Triple-A Louisville and has not lost velocity with his weight loss.
"There's been some guys that have really thrown the ball well for us, some guys that have opened up some eyes," Price said. "We definitely have guys who can hold down the fort if need be."