Saturday, March 20, 1999

Catchers set to platoon


Taubensee has gotten used to it

BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SARASOTA, Fla. — The Reds' solo act behind home plate was short-lived. They're destined to revive the duet they performed in most recent years.

        Though Cincinnati's infield and outfield regulars have been established, manager Jack McKeon has resisted assigning the catching duties to Eddie Taubensee, Brian Johnson or a platoon involving both. Such vagueness may be wise, because strange things can happen in the 16 days between now and the season opener. “You never know, with injuries and stuff like that,” McKeon said.

        Taubensee and Johnson have split playing time almost evenly during the exhibition season, which continued Friday night against the Boston Red Sox at Ed Smith Stadium. Though they won't continue to alternate on a strict day-by-day basis once the regular season begins, both have merited playing time.

        Johnson and Taubensee entered Friday hitting .364 and .333, respectively. Reds pitchers had a 4.68 ERA in Johnson's 50 innings of work, compared to 4.82 in Taubensee's 56 innings. The only area in which either had an appreciable edge was runners caught stealing. Johnson had thrown out 4-of-10 to Taubensee's 1-of-4.

        After achieving career-high totals last year in runs (61), hits (120), doubles (27) and RBI (72) while batting .278 with 11 homers, Taubensee initially bristled at the notion of sharing activity with Johnson, whom the Reds signed as a free agent on Jan. 11.

        But Taubensee has accepted what seems to be inevitable. If anything, he's used to it. Taubensee handled most of the catching last year, appearing in 130 games, but divided action from 1994-97 with Brian Dorsett, Benito Santiago and Joe Oliver.

        “We have a chance to win,” Taubensee said. “I think it's going to take two guys to keep each other fresh and carry this team. When they signed Brian, I knew I wouldn't get as much playing time as last year. I'm all right with that.”

        Third-year veteran Brook Fordyce further enhances Cincinnati's depth. “We have three guys capable of catching right now on this club,” McKeon said. But the Reds will keep only two catchers on the Opening Day roster. Fordyce, who hit .253 in 57 games last year, has nothing to prove by returning to the minor leagues. He also has no minor-league options left, so the Reds can't stash him in Triple-A Indianapolis. They've tried to trade him, but he appears bound to be lost through waivers.

        This leaves the lefthanded- batting Taubensee and the righthanded-hitting Johnson, who form an obvious platoon complement. But both have tended to be streaky hitters, so McKeon could opt to play the hot bat.

        “To me, the bottom line's production,” Johnson said.

        The intangible quality of winning experience may help Johnson.

        Taubensee is one of only four Reds (with Barry Larkin, Mark Lewis and Hal Morris) who played on the 1995 National League Central Division championship team. “It's great satisfaction, knowing what it takes to get there and playing with that intensity and excitement toward the end,” Taubensee said.

        But Johnson has played on what amounts to three consecutive postseason teams. He was with two NL West champions, the San Diego Padres (1996) and San Francisco Giants (1997), and was with the Giants last year when they lost a one-game playoff with the Cubs for the league's wild-card berth.

        Johnson's clubs have posted a lower ERA with him behind the plate in each of his five major-league seasons.

        “I've hit since I got out of the crib,” he said. “And I feel the same way about my defense.”

        - Catchers set to platoon
REDS NOTEBOOK: Opening Day sold out
Red Sox 6, Reds 5