TAMPA, Fla. -- Reds rotation candidates Homer Bailey and Edinson Volquez threw nearly the same amount of pitches in their outings against the Yankees on Monday night. What they did with those pitches was a contrast.

During Cincinnati's 4-0 loss to New York, the results were again mixed for Bailey in his third Grapefruit League start. The right-hander pitched 2 1/3 innings and gave up two earned runs, six hits with three walks, hit a batter and struck out three.

Given a limit of 60 pitches going in, Bailey saw his pitch count balloon quickly to 59 pitches before being lifted with one out in the third. He took the loss.

"Homer was throwing the ball well early," manager Dusty Baker said. "Then he kind of got out of sync for a couple of innings. He still threw the ball well. He just lost his rhythm."

Volquez, who entered in relief in the fifth, seemed to flow smoother than Bailey. In an electric performance, he struck out eight over four innings and threw 54 pitches. Volquez allowed two runs and six hits but did not walk a batter.

"Volquez threw the ball very well -- he's throwing the ball great," Baker said.

Exhibition game or not, Reds pitching coach Dick Pole knew on Monday that Bailey would be tested by a Yankees lineup that featured most of their well-known regulars.

"It's a good test for anybody," Pole said before the game at the batting-practice cage. "I just looked at that lineup in there and started to sweat."

"You have to keep in mind that lineup over there. They're all right, I guess," Bailey joked at first. "C'mon, that's a pretty good lineup. You don't look at the names on the jerseys ... because they don't have any."

Baker instructed Bailey to just focus on the catcher's glove and not get too wrapped up about the reputation of the hitter.

"Sometimes, it's a big-time challenge," Baker said. "It's tough on young guys facing guys you watched on TV just a couple of years ago. That's how it was for me. All of a sudden here, I was facing Bob Gibson, and I had seen him strike out 18 Tigers the year before on TV."

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Bailey worked a scoreless first inning and used 11 pitches. But that total bloated in the second, when he threw 32 more pitches. At one point, he issued back-to-back two-out walks to No. 9 hitter Nick Green and Johnny Damon, but he got out of it when Derek Jeter flied out.

"There were some good things and some bad things," Bailey said. "The good thing is I thought I got ahead of a lot of hitters. My changeup and curveball were pretty good. The cutter I've been working on? That's a bad thing, so we'll wait on that one. I had a couple of pretty tight spots and was able to get out of a few of them. At the end, my pitch count ran up."

All of Bailey's strikeouts were via offspeed pitches. One of the best pitches was a changeup that drifted away and got Jorge Posada to strike out leading off the second.

In the third, Bailey began with a leadoff walk to Bobby Abreu. An RBI double to right field by Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi's single put him into trouble and offered more in-game lessons about the Majors.

"I left them three inches up," Bailey said of the pitches to Rodriguez and Giambi. "Those are definitely hitters you don't want to make mistakes to. I made a slight little mistake, and they punish you for them. That's what makes them so good."

Before the game, both Baker and Pole felt Bailey had improved as camp progressed, which is important in the 21-year-old's quest to make the Reds' rotation.

"He's a lot more consistent with everything," Pole said. "He's cleaned up his delivery. He took out a lot of movement from his windup. He's gotten better each time he's gone out there."

Volquez replaced Mike Stanton and also had some difficult opposition. Volquez struck out the side of Rodriguez, Giambi and Matsui, with a single by Posada mixed in.

"I tried to put on a little extra," Volquez said of facing the heart of the New York order.

"He didn't have any slouches," Baker said. "When you go through that lineup, you've earned everything that you get. I like his attitude. He doesn't like giving up anything. I can't see him as one of those six-inning, quality-start, three-runs-or-less guys. He's upset when he gives up something. That's the attitude that you like to see."

Volquez did a solid job of working ahead of hitters and seemingly reached two strikes quickly most of the time.

"I've been working on my fastball command and my breaking ball too," Volquez said. "I just want to throw them over for strikes."

Bailey and Volquez are part of a wide-open battle to nab one of three open spots in the Reds' rotation. The campaign has certainly tightened in recent days. Johnny Cueto set a very high standard on Friday with his three scoreless innings and four strikeouts against the Pirates.

Through his three starts, covering 7 1/3 innings, Bailey is 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA. He has walked six and struck out six.

Volquez, who was acquired from the Rangers for Josh Hamilton on Dec. 21, has yet to start and is 1-0 with a 5.62 ERA in eight innings over three relief outings. A key stat: he has walked nobody and struck out 13.