CINCINNATI There were times in the not too distant past when if Homer Bailey held opponents to two earned runs over 6 13 innings he would be ecstatic, time to hit a steakhouse in celebration.
And thats even if the team lost.
That isnt the case these days for the 6-3, 225-pound right hander from La Grange, Tex., who is in his third year in the Cincinnati Reds pitching rotation despite being only 25.
It is part of a maturation process that has seen Bailey do a 180, as if he had a personality transplant going from an impertinent surliness when he first arrived to a polite, humorous, deeply analytical pitcher with a river-wide smile.
Bailey pitched 6 13 innings this week, holding the San Francisco Giants to two earned runs, a quality start. And the Reds won.
Was Bailey a contented cowpoke? Nope. His record is 1-2, but his ERA is a respectable 3.60, inflated by a miserable first start of the season when he gave up three home runs in the first inning to the St. Louis Cardinals.
So, does he believe he is pitching good?
Surprisingly, no, he said emphatically. If you look at numbers in my last start, well, I went 6 13 and gave up two earned. Most people say, Hey, thats good. Thats a quality start. You kept your team in the game and yada, yada, yada.
That, though, doesnt fit Baileys criteria.
For me, it is where do I set my sights, he said. Going out there and have a quality start is good, by no means bad. But Im not trying to go out there and pitch 6 13 and give up two runs. I want to go into the eighth and give up one.
Thats a lofty objective but Bailey is used to climbing high into hay lofts in Texas where his father raises chickens, About a million of them, and thats no exaggeration.
And Bailey isnt exaggerating about his goals and needs.
Thats what I was fighting after my last start when people were saying, Hey, that was a good game, said. And I kept saying, No, it wasnt. If I go out there in the seventh and do what I did in the fourth, fifth and sixth, it would totally change the game. If I put up a zero in the seventh I can go back out in the eighth having only given up one.
The score was 2-2 when Bailey started the seventh and gave up a leadoff double and a single. He retired a hitter on a pop fly, then manager Dusty Baker went to Jose Arredondo and he retired the next two Giants.
The Reds scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh and won, 4-2, but if Bailey had survived the seventh the victory would have been his to savor. Instead Arredondo was credited with the win.
I felt fine going into the seventh when I gave up that double to start the inning, he said. I was trying to elevate but didnt quite get it up enough. And then the other guy pushed one down the line. Thats out it can get out of hand quickly.
That inning aside, Bailey was asked if he thought he was pitching well so far this season.
Yeah, I think so, other than that first inning against St. Louis, he said of the three home runs in the first inning. Of course, it could only get better from that. I remember them, remember them vividly. But on a good note, I havent given up a home run since.
May, June and July will be better months, he said. A lot of our pitchers have pretty good numbers but well all get better. The weather gets warmer and you loosen up a little bit more. It has been a crazy first month.
The Reds were in Chicago in mid-April for a three-game series. The temperatures were barely above freezing and a hard wind howled off Lake Michigan the entire weekend. There was not one home run hit in Wrigley Field in three games.
Bailey pitched one of those games and said, The conditions were the worst of my entire life. Ive never pitched in such miserable conditions. I cant even think of anything close. Every inning it took me two or three hitters to get any feeling in my fingers. It was windy and it was wet and it was awful. Thats why so many first hitters were getting on base. I couldnt get the velocity or the action that I wanted.
But he survived with a victory, survived to pitch another day, survived to seek his one run in seven innings goal in his next outing Wednesday. Once again it against the Chicago Cubs, but it isnt on Lake Michigan. It is in Great American Ball Park and there is no lip-cracking, bone-splitting wind blowing in off the Ohio River.