Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Casey looks to be cleanup hitter

First baseman would protect Griffey

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Reds' batting order continued taking shape Monday when manager Bob Boone said he likely would begin the season with Sean Casey as his No. 4 hitter.

        Boone had said he was considering Casey, Alex Ochoa and Dmitri Young for the cleanup spot. BBut Casey has hit fourth for eight games in a row, including Monday's 7-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

        Casey, who has a .312 lifetime batting average, will bat behind Ken Griffey Jr. in the order.

        “If (opponents) pitch cautiously to Junior — which they all will, no matter who's behind him — I want them to pay for it,” Boone said. “And Casey's our best chance.”

        Casey hit third in 131 of his 148 starts in 1999 and hit fourth for the other 17 games. Last year, he spent most of his time (59 of 126 starts) hitting fifth, but hit .397 with seven doubles, a triple, seven homers and 22 RBI in 21 games at cleanup after Dante Bichette was traded to Boston on Aug. 31.

        Casey' is comfortable as long as he's in the middle of the order.

        “You've got me, Dmitri,

        Ochoa — a lot of good hitters (to bat fourth),” Casey said. “Anywhere, three, four or five, is fine with me. But I'd like to bat fourth. He (Boone) has a reason for everything.”

        Casey's lack of speed was Boone's reason for pondering other cleanup options. The manager said earlier this spring that he felt inclined to bat Young, who's fast enough to score from first on a double , ahead of Casey, who'd be challenged to do so. Young's nine infield hits last year showed he's faster than most realize.

        Monday, Boone said speed remains a priority. Just not in the middle of the order.

        “That's still going to be a factor in other places,” Boone said. “I'm thinking with Dmitri, Junior and Casey, I'm not going to run as aggressively. So it allows me to stack the runners and aggressive ballplayers together.”

        With 45 homers in the last two seasons, Casey isn't a prototypical cleanup hitter. In this respect, he's playing for an ideal manager, since Boone emphasizes consistency over power.

        “There's a difference between being a great hitter and a home-run hitter,” Casey said. “There are guys who hit home runs and bat .240, and then there are guys who can hit for average with no home runs. I hit probably in the middle of home runs and I'm going to hit for average.

        “I think people get so caught up in the home run nowadays. I'm not going to. I'm going to hit 20 or 30 home runs a year, maybe even more. There's no telling how many home runs I have the potential to hit. But I don't ever go up there trying to hit them. I'd rather go 3-for-4 with three singles than 1-for-4 with a home run.”

        Though Casey went 0-for-3 against Tampa Bay to drop his spring average from .318 to .280, he batted .412 (7-for-17) during a recent six-game hitting streak.

        “I'm just trying to be there every at-bat, mentally,” Casey said. “Sometimes in the spring, it's tough. But I'm trying to have a good spring and carry it over into the season.”


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