CINCINNATI — It was a bright day under a scorching Arizona sun during a tedious spring training workout and shortstop Zack Cozart swooped to his left and speared a line drive in the webbing of his glove.
And it stuck.
From over at first base, Joey Votto yelled, “Zacuum Cozart, Zacuum Cozart.” And that stuck too. Zack Cozart is now Zacuum Cozart.
“Yeah, Joey said that and it sort of took off,” said Cozart. “He said that when the ball gets in my glove it just sucks it up and stays in there. It’s one of those ongoing things and it is a pretty cool nickname.”
It is cool and it is apropos because Cozart is as at home at shortstop as the buffalo once was on the range.
And it’s also cool and apropos for the Reds that Cozart, after a glacial offensive start this season, is beginning to hit — four hits Wednesday in New York and he began Friday’s game against the Chicago Cubs on a four-game hitting streak (7 for 21, .333 with three doubles.
Cozart, a 27-year-old Tennessee native and a second-round draft pick in 2007, hit safely in nine of his last 12 games, pushing his average from the depths of below .200 to .224.
His offensive activity is as important as his glovework to the Reds because he bats second between leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo and No. 3 hitter Joey Votto.
When the season began he was the No. 7 hitter and Brandon Phillips batted second. But when clean-up hitter Ryan Ludwick tore up his shoulder on Opening Day, manager Dusty Baker was forced to move Phillips to cleanup and plant Cozart in the No. 2 hole.
It didn’t work well in April and actually was so ineffective that Baker considered trying somebody else in the two-hole.
“I’d been wondering what to do,” Baker said. “That is the spot for Cozart on my team but if you are not getting on in that spot that makes it tough. Many times I wanted to do something else but I didn’t have the other personnel to do it with. And I didn’t want everybody at the bottom of the lineup to be struggling.”
While Cozart’s average hovered around .175 in April, Baker offered advice by saying, “You have to stay out of the air. You’ve hit a lot of fly balls, too many fly balls.”
Cozart does have 20 RBI despite his miniscule batting average, and Baker quickly said, “Yeah, he does, but batting behind Choo he has had a lot of opportunities.”
Choo has been getting on base nearly half the time he walks to the plate, but on Wednesday he didn’t get a hit and Cozart responded with four. “That was the perfect time for him to get hot. I hope he has turned the corner because I know that it’s what he needs and it is what we need. I’ve seen him in the dugout grinding, a lot on his mind, because it is not easy when you don’t do as well as you like to do, especially a young player.”
Baker does give credit to Cozart for continuing to take his glove onto the field without dragging his bat out there with him, thinking about his lack of hits early in the season.
“No, he is steady, a really steady player and I’m glad to see him get some hits,” Baker said. “We’ve been pulling for him so hard to do well.”
Cozart, of course, is thrilled to see balls landing in front of the outfielders and balls shooting between infielders when before it looked as if the defense was playing 18 men on the field and he was tempted to ask the umpire, “Is that legal?”
Zaccuum knows his glove works just fine and believes his bat is finally paying its way, too.
“It has been a weird season,” he said. “I didn’t come into the season wanting to cut down on strikeouts, but I did want to make more contact. And I didn’t want to chase so many pitches out of the zone.
“I felt I’ve been doing that, only 20 strikeouts, but I hadn’t been putting balls in play the way I wanted to put them in play,” he added. “Yeah, I have RBIs, but it is a lot easier when you have guys like Choo on base all the time. Seems like every time I come up he is on base.
“But I have been able to contribute defense and some little things — I have five sacrifice flies and I have bunted well this year. So you have to do little things like that when you aren’t hitting.”
So maybe soon he can add another nickname to Zaccuum when he bats — like The Zack Attack.