High pitch count haunts Bailey

High pitch count haunts Bailey

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Monday night's start was Homer Bailey's final chance to prove to Reds decision-makers that he should open the 2008 season at Great American Ball Park, not Louisville Slugger Field.

"It's a big start for Homer," manager Dusty Baker said before the game. "It's not do or die, but it could sure help his cause a lot."

Bailey's latest pitching line is highly unlikely to move him the additional 100-mile distance from Louisville to Cincinnati. Using 84 pitches in just 4 1/3 innings against the Blue Jays, the 21-year-old right-hander allowed one unearned run and two hits but walked six.

"Six walks -- in the big leagues, that will haunt you," Baker said following the game.

Bailey last pitched on Thursday vs. the Twins, but he was moved up to get another start. If he makes the team, it would have lined him up for the fourth spot in the rotation. He had no problem accepting the assignment.

"Keep the skipper happy, man, that's all I do. If he says 'jump,' you say, 'how high?' said Bailey, who got the win in a 5-3 final over Toronto.

Getting ahead on batters early with strikes, Bailey needed 14 pitches in both the first and second innings before the pitch count started to really escalate.

One positive was that Bailey didn't pay for his wildness. He induced two double plays and a potential third was quashed on second baseman Brandon Phillips' throwing error that scored a run in the third.

By the fifth, Bailey clearly lost any momentum when he walked three of his last four batters, including a wild pitch, and loaded the bases. Following David Eckstein's four-pitch walk, Baker came to the mound to get Bailey.

"This was the first time I went on three days' rest since [Class] A ball," Bailey said. "I think at the end I was just getting a little tired. My arm started to come up a little bit."

In his final inning, Bailey threw just six of his last 21 pitches for strikes. Control issues and a lack of pitch conservation have made this prospect suspect this spring.

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"He was real good until he lost command of the strike zone," Baker said. "His pitch count went up a little bit. He's looking better. He has to find a way to eliminate those walks, because he has the stuff."

Bailey was moved into the start so originally scheduled starter Josh Fogg could throw in a Minor League game on Monday afternoon. Although a different setting, Fogg coincidentally threw 84 pitches, but he stretched it out to seven innings.

Fogg, a veteran free-agent signee, likely will be the Reds' No. 4 starter when the season opens. Two young pitchers, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, have outpitched Bailey most of camp and seem poised for the third and fifth spots, respectively.

Overall this spring, Bailey is 1-3 with a 5.21 ERA in six starts over 19 innings. He's walked 16 while recording 11 strikeouts.

Before the game, Baker was asked what Bailey had to show him to improve his chances of making the team.

"Strikes -- quality strikes," Baker responded. "The main problem the last couple of years has been high pitch counts in a short period of time. I'm sure he'll bring it down. He has to bring it down or he won't be around very long and it'll tax your bullpen."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.