Wednesday, April 03, 2002

They may not steal, but Reds can run

Bowden says club has players who can take extra bases

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The leadoff hitter was 1-for-9 in stolen-base attempts last year. The No.2 hitter stole three bases, the No.3 hitter three. So the Reds won't set any records for steals this year. But they don't like the label of a slow team.

        “We're not going to be a station-to-station team,” third baseman Aaron Boone said. “We've got some people who can run.”

        Much was made of the situational hitting after Monday's 5-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs. But for situational hitting to be effective, a team has to be aggressive on the base paths.

        The Reds were Monday. Todd Walker, the leadoff man, went from second to third on No.2 hitter Barry Larkin's fly out in the first. No.3 hitter Ken Griffey Jr. took second base when Walker was caught in a rundown in the third.

        Taking the extra base led to a run each time.

        The game was won when Larkin scored on a sacrifice fly in the ninth. Larkin's speed gave him that chance.

        “Barry looked like a guy with pretty good wheels on that play,” said first baseman Sean Casey.

        The point is, speed can be used for much more than stealing bases.

        Reds general manager Jim Bowden's final trade before the season, getting Reggie Taylor from the Philadelphia Phillies for Hector Mercado, was clearly an effort to add speed.

        Bowden sees the need for speed, but the trend in baseball is away from speed and toward power. Only six National League players stole more than 30 bases last year. Seven hit more than 40 home runs.

        “I think if we were playing on AstroTurf, that would be more of a concern,” Bowden said. “When you're on turf, you have to have (speed). We don't have the speedsters at the top you'd like, in an ideal situation. What we do have is a lot of guys who go from first to third (on a single) and first to home on a double. We're not a slow team.”

        Of the starting eight, only cleanup hitter Casey would be considered a station-to-station guy.

        “We've improved our speed,” Bowden said. “(Juan) Encarnacion is an upgrade as far as speed. Adam Dunn's a big guy, but he runs well. He can go from first to third and score from first on a double. So can Griffey. (Catcher) Jason LaRue runs well. Seven of the eight guys in the lineup run pretty well.”

        Walker had little success stealing bases last year, but he did well in the past. He stole 19 in 1998 and 18 in '99. Larkin, if healthy, will steal his share. He stole three last year and 14 the year before, but he battled injuries both years. When he was healthy for the full year in 1999, he stole 30.

        Larkin and Brady Clark each stole a base Monday.

        Griffey hasn't run much with the Reds — injuries were a big part of that — but he averaged 15 steals a season in Seattle, and he's willing to run.

        “Plain and simple, I will steal bases when called upon,” he said. “When you run, the guy hitting sees better pitches. Sometimes it's more important to run to set something up for the hitter.”

        The speed at the bottom of the lineup is excellent. No.5 hitter Boone has missed time to injuries the last two years, but he stole 17 bases in 1999. No.6 hitter Dunn stole 24 bases at Single-A Dayton two years ago and 15 on three levels last year.

        No. 7 hitter Encarnacion stole 33 in '99, 16 in 2000 and nine last year.

        Encarnacion won't have the green light while he's hitting seventh. But he's ready to run.

        “I'll try to get as many as I can,” he said. “But it's up to them when I run.”

        The speed on the bench is good.

        “You've got Reggie Taylor, who can fly; you've got Gookie Dawkins, who can fly; and you've got Wilton Guerrero, who can fly,” Bowden said. “Brady Clark runs pretty well, too.”

        Dawkins averaged 28 sto len bases a year in the minor leagues, and Taylor stole 31 bases at Triple-A Scranton last year.

        “I don't think we have that big-time base stealer,” Boone said. “But we can steal when it counts. I think athletically we're all right.”

        JENNINGS TO LOUISVILLE: Robin Jennings, who was designated for assignment Friday to make room for Taylor on the 40-man roster, was outrighted to Triple-A Louisville on Tuesday.

        Jennings, 29, hit .286 with three home runs and 14 RBI in 27 games for the Reds last year. He was obtained with Walker from Colorado for Alex Ochoa in July.

        GOOD ATTENDANCE: All the Reds' position players, except Casey and Kelly Stinnett, showed up Tuesday for the voluntary workout at Cinergy Field.

        “Sean and Kelly had previous engagements,” Bowden said. “So that's a pretty good showing.”


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