Lidle will start Reds' opener

Updated: March 25, 2004, 2:04 PM ET
ESPN

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The newest member of the Cincinnati Reds' rotation moved to the front of the line.

Right-hander Cory Lidle will start the Reds' season opener on April 5 against the Chicago Cubs, the first time the 31-year-old pitcher has received such an honor in the majors.

"Obviously, here it's a bigger deal," Lidle said Tuesday after manager Dave Miley announced his choice. "It's not hard to be the opening-day guy in Little League or high school, but it's an honor to do that in the big leagues and I'm proud of it."

Miley picked Lidle over holdovers Jimmy Haynes and Paul Wilson. Lidle, 31, signed a one-year contract for $2.75 million as a free agent from Toronto, where he went 12-15 with a 5.75 ERA last season.

Lidle pitched in the playoffs for Oakland in 2001 and 2002 but hasn't received such a prominent place in a team's rotation. His only other moment in the spotlight came in 2001, when he started one game against the New York Yankees in the playoffs and lost.

"I think it will feel a lot like (that)," he said. "I handled that pressure pretty good. It will feel somewhat the same. I think I'll be able to stay calm and go about my everyday business."

Few starting pitchers are able to treat an opener in Cincinnati like an everyday thing. The city holds a parade through downtown before the game, which is always sold out.

Tickets for this year's game were gone in 16 minutes, the fastest opening-day sellout in team history.

"I know they didn't sell out in 16 minutes because of me, though," Lidle said.

The Cubs plan to start Kerry Wood at the front of a rotation that includes Mark Prior and Greg Maddux. The Reds' rotation is still in flux less than two weeks from the start of the season.

Haynes started the inaugural game at Great American Ball Park last year. Pittsburgh batted around in the second inning of its 10-1 victory, which marked the beginning of a tough season for Haynes.

He lost his first four starts before going on the disabled list with a bulging disc in his lower back. He started only 18 games last season, going 2-12 with a 6.30 ERA.

Tests detected weakness in his back when he showed up for spring training, so the Reds put him on a strengthening program and held him back. Miley is waiting to see how the back holds up before deciding where to put him in the rotation.

He could be the fifth starter at the outset, which means he wouldn't have to pitch until the second week in the season, giving him more time to build his endurance.

"If he needs that time, we could very easily do it that way," Miley said.

Wilson was 8-10 with a 4.64 ERA last season, when he developed shoulder tendinitis and had to stop pitching in September. He's No. 2 in the rotation, with several young pitchers competing for the last two spots.

Miley was considering Lidle and Wilson for the opening start.

"I don't think we could have gone wrong either way," Miley said.

He informed Lidle of his decision on Friday during his outing against Tampa Bay, but kept it quiet. The timing surprised Lidle, who found out as he walked off the field after pitching the seventh inning.

"I thought they were calling me over to see if I wanted to go another inning, so that was quite a surprise," Lidle said. "I wasn't ready for that."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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