Maloney could be ticketed for bullpen

Maloney could be ticketed for bullpen

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The only thing not getting scarce yet in the Reds fifth starter's race is the number of candidates seeking the job.

Innings are the most precious currency of all as the competition gets down to the nitty-gritty over the final two weeks. Based on his performances late last season, left-hander Matt Maloney seemed like he was in the upper portion of contenders coming into Spring Training.

That notion certainly seems less likely now. A mixed camp for Maloney has the Reds wondering whether he's fifth-starter material.

"We haven't decided on Maloney yet," Reds manager Dusty Baker said on Friday afternoon. "Would he be better in the bullpen or is he still in the running yet? We're trying to decide that."

In two innings of relief vs. the Mariners on Friday night, Maloney gave up one earned run on three hits and struck out three. He retired the side in order during his second inning of work.

It is pretty telling that Maloney's next outing isn't until Thursday and he is scheduled for only two innings. It would seem he'd need to get more stretched out to be ready as a starter.

Maloney, 26, hasn't been approached yet about taking a bullpen role but wasn't opposed to it.

"I told them I'm willing to do whatever it takes to pitch at the big league level," said Maloney, who hasn't pitched in a bullpen since he was the closer at Ole Miss in 2005. "I think they know I'm willing to do it."

Through four games and 7 1/3 innings, Maloney has a 6.14 ERA with 10 hits, four walks and eight strikeouts. Last season in seven big league starts, he was 2-4 with a 4.87 ERA with both wins coming in September, when he posted a 2.65 ERA over his final three starts.

"He's not as sharp as he was at the end of last year," Baker said. "He appears to be more of a slow starter type and he comes on stronger as the season goes on. He's certainly better than he was the last two years we've seen him in Spring Training."

2010 Spring Training - null
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info

"I try not to think about that. It's been in the back of my mind a little bit," Maloney said of being a slow starter. "I just try to go out and do my job and stay within myself and not try to do too much. That's what will be best for me when it comes to winning the job."

Maloney is still part of a seven-man battle for the last rotation spot that includes Aroldis Chapman, Micah Owings, Justin Lehr, Travis Wood and long shots Kip Wells and Mike Leake.

"These things always sort themselves out," Baker said. "I don't remember having this many candidates really. When some of the guys are throwing pretty good, you weigh how much experience they have at a high level or any level. Also, none of them have been in a situation of adversity. ... How are they going to handle failure as well as success?"

Chapman's triple-digit velocity, command and 1.29 ERA with two walks and 10 strikeouts have been the most impressive of the group. But the chances for Chapman, a 22-year-old Cuban defector, aren't totally tied to performance. There are cultural adjustment issues also under consideration.

Wood, who has only eight Triple-A starts and is in his first big league camp, remains a serious candidate with a 1.29 ERA. He walked five (including four in one game) and has struck out six in his seven innings. He will get his first start on Saturday vs. the Giants. Leake, last year's eighth overall Draft pick, has dazzled with five scoreless innings, one walk and six strikeouts. He is slated to get his first start next Saturday vs. Seattle.

Lehr, who will start on Sunday vs. the Cubs, has a 4.26 ERA in four games, but has allowed one earned run over his last 4 1/3 innings. Owings has a 4.50 ERA in three games, but worked three scoreless his last time out.

"It's going to go down to the wire," Maloney said. "We have a bunch of good guys competing for it. Whoever gets it is going to be very deserving of it."

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