By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — It was a ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ moment for Cincinnati Reds pitcher Amir Garrett.
His eight-day suspension is over and he was being welcomed back to the bullpen by his teammates before Tuesday’s game against the San Diego Padres.
Garrett was suspended after he sprinted from the mound to in front of the Pittsburgh Pirates dugout, where he threw a couple of roundhouse punches intended to score knockouts on a couple of their players. It ignited a brawl and earned Garrett a mid-season seat in the timeout chair. He didn’t score any knockouts, but he did win on points.
Because the Reds released Zach Duke and sent Wandy Peralta back to the minors, the club did not have a left hander in the bullpen during Garrett’s forced absence
“It definitely stunk, man,” he said. “I felt so helpless for eight days. I was useless. I was just there. And it stunk.”
Garrett did not make the three-day trip last week to Washington, but he worked.
“I got my work in by throwing in the bullpen,” he said. “I threw as hard as I could, like in a game-situation, but it’s not the same. I didn’t want to be fresh. If I feel too fresh, I’m not as good. I just tried to be on the same routine I was on the whole season.”
That, of course, did not include pitching in games.
Garrett feels bad that he left his team with a huge bullpen hole.
“I’m here now, that’s all that matters. I’m good to go,” he said. “It was very tough to watch my team compete without me. I love being here and going to battle with them every single day.
“It was a crucial time for us and me being gone eight days was not good,” he said. “Some of the guys had to pick it up, cover me while I was gone. They had to pick up the slack while I was gone. That was tough on my teammates that they had to do that.”
MANAGER DAVID BELL had another new look to his lineup Tuesday. Rookie Josh VanMeter was batting leadoff, with Freddy Galvis batting second.
“With Jesse Winker and Joey Votto out, we have a little bit of a different makeup to our lineup and personnel,” said Bell. “With Josh, his at bats have been solid, ever since he has been here. He is not afraid to go deep in the counts, he takes walks.
“Yes, leadoff hitters set the table, but later in the games they have a chance to come up in crucial situations,” said Bell. “We want him up at the plate in almost all situations. There is no situations that he can’t handle, even though he is a first-year player and there should be. He has shown he can handle a lot.”
While he has never batted leadoff in the majors, it is not unfamiliar to VanMeter. He batted leadoff for the final three weeks last season at Class AAA Louisville.
“It isn’t too strange and I like it,” he said. “But it sometimes is only in the first inning. There is a leadoff guy every inning and it isn’t always the so-called leadoff hitter.
“I just try to get a good ball to hit and put a good swing on it,” he said. “It’s my approach. I try not to give in and go into battle when I get two strikes. When I get to two strikes, I try to put the ball in play because I hate striking out.
“The first two strikes I just kind of let it go and then I go into battle mode,” he said. “Try to make the pitcher work, see as many pitches as you can and at the end you’ve put together a quality at bat.”
THERE WAS A TIME early this season when shortstop Jose Iglesias approached manager David Bell with a request: “Please don’t ever pinch-hit for me.”
Bell laughed while recalling the conversation and said he respects the request and because of Iglesias’ approach he can honor that request.
Iglesias entered Tuesday’s game with a 14-game hitting streak, longest active in the majors and four shy of his career best. Iglesias leads the National League in first-inning batting with a .478 average — and it isn’t likely he would ever get pinch-hit for in the first inning.
The other major facet of his game is that he leads the majors in hits with two strikes.
“He gets to two strikes and it is almost like the pitcher can’t throw him a ball out of the strike zone,” said Bell. “He has such great hand-to-eye coordination to foul pitches off until he gets a pitch he can put into play and hit hard.
“He is like a throwback, you don’t see that a lot,” Bell added. “You’d see more of that in the past. He’s geared for a fastball and it is like there is almost like they can’t throw a pitch he can’t make contact with. He gives a tough at bat and he can get to velocity.”
THERE WAS SOME confusion involving Cincinnati Reds pitcher Luis Castillo Tuesday involving another Luis Castillo, a former Major League infielder.
The other Castillo, along with former major league pitcher Octavio Dotel, were arrested Tuesday in the Dominican Republic in what authorities said was one of the biggest drug trafficking rings in the country.
Unfortunately, a Dominican web-site posted a photo of Reds’ pitcher Luis Castillo instead of the arrested Luis Castillo.
“Not me, not me,” Castillo said before Tuesday’s game, sitting at his locker. “He held up his cellphone, displaying his photo on the drug story and said, “Not me. Wasn’t me.”