SARASOTA, Fla. -- So what if it's a meaningless exhibition game? Reds ace Aaron Harang still gets a charge from pitching -- even his first game of the spring. "Oh yeah. Especially when you get into a situation," Harang said. "I was kind of stepping back and slowing everything down. The faster you try to get through it, usually the faster it spirals out of control."
In the Reds' 12-11 win over the Pirates on Saturday, Harang didn't have a crisp outing. He allowed two earned runs and two hits with one walk and one strikeout over two innings. The right-hander retired the Bucs in order in the first inning, but issued a one-out walk to Xavier Nady to get into a second-inning jam. "Nady got up there and my adrenaline got going a little more," Harang said. "I was kind of rushing everything. Of course, walks kill you. He ended up scoring on the next play." Fortunately, Spring Training stats aren't a reliable indicator of what's to come for Harang. Last year, he was 2-3 with a 6.66 ERA in six spring starts. In the regular season, Harang went 16-6 with a 3.73 ERA and a career-high 218 strikeouts in 231 2/3 innings. In 2006, he was 16-11 with a 3.76 ERA and 216 strikeouts in 234 1/3 innings. "The guy is strike one, he keeps the ball down and has an idea," manager Dusty Baker said. "He really minimizes his pitches, which I like a lot. He rarely has high pitch counts deep in the game because of pitch conservation. You don't see him going 0-2 and end up at 3-2 from picking." Even aces can get better, and Harang doesn't plan on being the exception. He's been trying to upgrade his changeup since the offseason and has tinkered with it in camp. "The best place to learn new pitches and work on pitches is from flat ground, throwing it during [pitchers fielding practice]," Harang said. "Those mistakes don't get hit over the fence." There's been no formal announcement, but it'll be far from a surprise if Harang is named the Reds' Opening Day starter against Arizona on March 31. From Saturday, his pitching schedule lines up perfectly to work his third-straight opener.
"I think that's pretty safe," Baker said.If he can be amped for his spring game, Harang should have no trouble getting up for the first one that counts. "It's a big deal in Cincinnati," Harang said. "We don't get to see all the parade stuff that goes on because we're kind of behind the scenes. But you can definitely tell the atmosphere around the ballpark." Sweet swing: In the first inning of his second game this spring, Ken Griffey Jr. notched his first homer -- a well-connected shot to left-center field. "Opposite field, too. That's saying something," Baker said. "You're not surprised when he pulls one. But when he hits one like that, you usually don't have that kind of sock this early." Griffey called the home run swing "vintage." "My Dad [Ken Griffey Sr.] came down a couple of days ago and we worked on some things," Griffey said. "He just told me that I wasn't getting it out there. I felt like I was dragging my front shoulder. After a couple of pitches, he got me going. It's just trying to continue to build on that." Baker has Griffey and Adam Dunn on schedule to rest every third game this spring. Therefore, Griffey won't play in Sunday's game vs. the Blue Jays. "I'm going to the beach and work on my tan," Griffey joked. "Then I'm doing some boogie boarding. I should be done by about 1 p.m." Hatteberg returns: After missing the first three games with the flu, Scott Hatteberg entered Saturday's game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth. Hatteberg went 1-for-2 with a walk and notched the game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth -- a blooper that fell near the left-field line between two colliding Pirates. Up next: Bronson Arroyo will get his first spring start when the Reds head to Dunedin, Fla., to face the Blue Jays on Sunday at 12:35 p.m. ET. Slated to follow Arroyo are Johnny Cueto, Francisco Cordero, David Weathers, Kent Mercker, Mike Lincoln and Mike Stanton. Position players Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto will also make the trip. Righty A.J. Burnett is Toronto's scheduled starter.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.