At Long Last, Bailey Living Up to Hype
"It's too early to tell," Reds manager Dusty Baker said last week. "It's two starts. But he's at the corner. It's progress."
Sometimes it's easy to forget that David Dewitt Bailey is barely 23 and instead focus on his false starts and yo-yo trips between the majors and Triple-A. The Reds' No. 1 draft pick in 2004, Bailey has had to deal with high expectations ever since. But he had a 5.76 ERA in nine starts in 2007 and a 7.93 mark while going 0-6 last year.
Bailey, scheduled to start Thursday night against Milwaukee, didn't make the Reds out of spring training this season, with Micah Owings earning the fifth rotation spot. Bailey came up for one start in May in place of Edinson Volquez and came back in late June when Volquez went back on the disabled list.
He won at Cleveland in June 27 despite six walks in five innings. And in two no-decisions since, Bailey has struck out 11, walked two and given up 10 hits in 13 1/3 innings.
At one point in his most recent start, Bailey told Baker he was good for 120-125 pitches.
"I'd rather have that horse that I've got to put the reins on," Baker said, "than I do the horse that's going to stop."
Bailey credits two people for his improvement. Over the winter, he worked with University of Texas pitching coach Skip Johnson and figured out a mechanical flaw. (Bailey would have attended Texas had he not signed with the Reds.)
"He noticed in one bullpen," Bailey said. "I came back for the second one and it was a noticeable difference. It was like, this is unbelievable."
Bailey said he learned to "stand tall" and keep his weight back longer in his delivery, allowing him to be more consistent with his release point and his command.
Then, this year at Triple-A Louisville, Bailey learned the split-finger pitch from teammate Justin Lehr, giving him a third pitch he could use in place of a changeup.
"I never could throw a changeup," he said, "so it was like, to hell with it. I kind of tinkered with a split a few years ago and the organization didn't want me throwing it."
While Baker said "quality strikes" is the biggest difference in Bailey, there's a confidence factor too.
"Most of the guys in here have never struggled since Little League, probably," Baker said. "How many people 22 years old never had a struggle? He kind of flew through the minor leagues, and the hard part of being a young professional that people don't understand: How many people 22 years old reach their lifetime goal?
"If you've never been hit before, that's an adjustment in itself. ... It's going to make you stronger and more appreciative when you do get it back. ... And the tough part is to not let doubt creep in and remain confident."
Bailey said he is trying to keep things simple and didn't want to get too much into the mental part of his turnaround. But he acknowledged there was such a component.
"Once you've failed, you know what you need to correct," he said. "So luckily, hopefully, I've gotten most of the failure out of the way over the last two years."
If so, the Reds may finally have what everyone has been waiting for.
"Anybody who has kids knows they all get it at different paces," Baker said. "Once they get it, then they've got it."