Even on the mend, Bailey essential to Reds

Right-hander lends veteran presence to Cincinnati's young pitching staff

Even on the mend, Bailey essential to Reds

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The one veteran expected to be in the Reds' rotation for 2016 is Homer Bailey, and the team will be counting on his presence. But the right-hander will be on a different program than his fellow pitchers. Bailey, who is rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery, isn't slated to return until early-to-mid May.

One of several early arrivals to Spring Training ahead of Thursday's official report date for Reds pitchers and catchers, Bailey already has had two bullpen sessions at home in Texas. His first time working from the mound in Arizona is scheduled for Friday.

"The best way I can explain, like I've been saying, is I feel normal," Bailey said on Wednesday. "I don't know that anything ever happened, which is kind of frustrating, because I know my mound progressions will be so much slower. My body and mind says, 'Hey, I can go.' But it's part of coming back from surgery."

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Bailey, 29, made one Minor League rehab start and two Major League starts last season before he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. That came after he had just finished rehab from flexor tendon surgery that repaired a tear in 2014.

"After you've watched a bunch of games for a year straight, it's, 'I want to play.' It's kind of like the kid being in timeout," Bailey said. "You're sitting there, staring at the wall, and everyone else is playing. You want to go to recess."

There's not a date yet for when Bailey might pitch in an exhibition game. But he vowed that he wouldn't rush back and risk re-injuring himself.

"That's not going to happen," he said.

With 168 career starts in the Majors for the Reds since 2007, Bailey isn't just the longest-tenured member of the rotation. He has nearly five times the number of starts than the pitcher with the second-most starts in Anthony DeSclafani (36), a rookie last season.

The rest of the rotation -- and much of the pitching staff in general -- are young pitchers and prospects. Bailey, once a high-profile rookie prospect himself and former first-round pick in the 2004 Draft, was ready to embrace the leadership role.

"It could be a lot of fun," said Bailey, who is 58-51 lifetime with a 4.19 ERA. "Seeing the young guys we have, there is a lot of talent here, so that's a plus. But there's not a lot of experience. I feel like it's something I can bring a little bit of."

In January, the Reds held a "pitching summit" at the team complex and invited only their young pitchers and prospects that either have pitched in the Majors in the past or could pitch at the highest level this season.

Even though he didn't have to go, Bailey made it a point to attend. While manager Bryan Price led the summit with his pitching coaches, Bailey led or spoke at a few of the meetings with the pitchers.

"When you hear things coming from other players and you know they have already done it, it kind of half validates it," Bailey said. "Hearing something from your parents vs. hearing it from an older brother is a totally different thing."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.