Belisle's chances for a Cincinnati zip code remained very strong during Sunday's 3-2 loss to Toronto. In four mostly sharp innings, the right-hander allowed two earned runs and four hits with one walk and three strikeouts.
Over four big-league games, Belisle has a 2.08 ERA (three earned runs over 13 innings). He's also pitched in two Minor League games, with his last big-league outing on March 12.
"You can always be sharper but I feel like each time, I'm progressing right where I want to be," Belisle said. "There are things I know I need to improve but as far when the bell rings, am I ready? You bet."
Successful at keeping the ball on the ground, Belisle induced two double plays and faced 14 batters, or two over the minimum, while throwing 53 pitches. He threw an additional two innings of simulated action in the bullpen afterwards.
Belisle has done everything he could to be prepared for the roster battle, including pitching in Puerto Rican winter ball.
"I came in with the mindset to prepare for that and believe in it," he said. "I have 100 percent confidence in it so I'm ready to take it."
Not so fast, however. Belisle doesn't have the inside lane all to himself. Kirk Saarloos and lefty Bobby Livingston have made the choice tougher with good springs of their own. Saarloos worked three innings of three-hit relief Sunday and struck out four. An eighth-inning unearned run scored on third baseman Mark Bellhorn's throwing error that gave Saarloos the loss.
Livingston is scheduled to pitch on Monday vs. the Red Sox.
"I really try to work on not knowing what's going on with everything else in that regard," Belisle said. "I try to focus on what I know I need to do. It seems like every year, it comes down to the wire like this."
Since none of the three pitchers have long track records as big-league starters, manager Jerry Narron and general manager Wayne Krivsky will have plenty to mull over before making a selection.
"It won't be easy because they've all pitched well enough to pitch in that fifth spot," Narron said. "There will be some things that we'll discuss on what benefits our club the most -- somebody that might be able to pitch out of the bullpen [or] somebody that needs regular turns in Triple-A. We're not going to have the same five guys all year, I'm sure of it. It'd be nice but I doubt that's going to happen.
"It might not be [decided] until we set the rosters on Opening Day of the Major League season."
Narron has already said Belisle is best suited to start, either in the Majors or Triple-A Louisville. Saarloos will make the team, but is versatile enough to be used out of the bullpen. Because of off days in April, whoever the fifth starter is will have to work on inconsistent throwing schedules and could be used in long relief.
The Reds won't need a fifth man for the first time until April 8.
First baseman Scott Hatteberg, who hadn't played since Wednesday because of a sore left groin, returned to the lineup Sunday.
Catcher Javier Valentin played his first game since he strained his left hamstring on Thursday. Valentin started behind the plate.
Right fielder Ken Griffey Jr., who returned from a broken left hand Saturday and went 2-for-4, was expected to play on Monday vs. the Red Sox.
"Hopefully he'll get somewhere between 20-25 plate appearances before we start," Narron said.
Get on the bus:
Unlike Saturday's almost-Opening Day lineup, the Reds featured only a handful of regulars against the Blue Jays. Veteran slugger Adam Dunn, who was the designated hitter, was on the lengthy 90-minute bus ride. What did Dunn do to be sent on the trip?
"Just being Adam," Dunn cracked.
Dunn went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. It was the first time he had struck out since March 17, a string of 14 at-bats. He's still batting .409 (16-for-44) this spring.
Minor League field coordinator Tim Naehring delivered the news to Drew Stubbs Saturday morning that the Reds' 2006 first-round draft pick would be with the big league team in Sunday's game vs. Toronto.
What Stubbs didn't know until Sunday was that he was in the starting lineup. The 22-year-old batted ninth and played center field.
"I'm extremely excited," said Stubbs, who was seated quietly at one end of the visitor's clubhouse. "I was just looking forward to coming over here to get a few innings. When I saw the lineup and I'm in there, it's a neat thing. It's my first chance to be in an atmosphere like this. I'm relishing the opportunity to go out and have a lot of fun."
Stubbs went 2-for-4 with a pair of infield singles. After his first hit in the third inning, he was quickly picked off of first base.
The Reds will get their first and only look at Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka on Monday at 1:05 p.m. in Sarasota. About 70 writers, broadcasters and photographers, many from Japan, will flood Ed Smith Stadium to follow Matsuzaka.