CINCINNATI — Todd Frazier smiled broadly when he was asked about the pressure of replacing Scott Rolen at third base for the Cincinnati Reds and he said, “Yeah, right. No pressure there at all, right?
Yeah, no pressure for a young player stepping into the deep and wide cleats of a guy who won eight Gold Gloves, emblematic of defensive excellence.
Rolen quietly slipped into the seclusion of retirement last winter and his job was handed to Frazier, whose job description before included third base, first base, left field, pinch-hitter and any other task manager Dusty Baker found for him.
And how is it working? Swimmingly — or divingly. Just 13 games into the season, the 27-year-old supplemental first-round pick in 2007 is providing leakless defense that has included several diving stops.
He dove to his left in the ninth inning Tuesday night of a 0-0 tie to spear a ball bound for left field that was hit by Philadelphia’s John Mayberry Jr. Frazier scrambled to his feet and threw Mayberry out at first.
“Frazier works hard, works on it,” said Baker, ever the appreciative manager. “It doesn’t just happen when you wake up in the morning. You have to put in the work. And defense is work. Offense is fun, but defense is work.
“Frazier has worked on his lateral quickness a whole bunch in spring training, working a lot with (coach) Chris Speier and got some tips from Scott Rolen.”
Frazier began the season on an offensive tear during the first six games, but slipped into an offense abyss during a six-game trip during which he went 1 for 17. But he realizes that while his bat might not always function, the glove should always work.
“I wish I could be more consistent with the bat, but I feel comfortable at third base, thanks to Chris Speier pointing me in the right direction. If I’m positioned in the right spot, I think I can get to every ball and Speier is great at positioning.”
Baker believes Frazier is better because he is no longer homeless. He has found his home at third base.
“It helps that he is playing one position for the first time in his professional life,” said Baker. “When he was coming up through the minors he was in left, right, first base, third base. How do you get real good at a position unless you play it all the time?”
Frazier actually signed as a shortstop, one of the few positions he hasn’t played professionally.
“Playing one position helps me out a ton,” said Frazier. “First and foremost, it helps my arm to be throwing from one position. Secondly, I only have to know positioning for one position instead of for first base and for left field and for right field. It keeps me calm. That’s the the biggest thing for me — try to be calm and solid.
“Third base is basically knocking balls down in the late innings, whether you have to dive or take one off the chin. You have to figure out how to knock it down,” he said.
With his permanent-fixture third baseman, Baker can see development coming fast with the Toms River, N.J. native.
“His confidence is getting better,” said Baker. “I like to see all my guys win Gold Gloves because that means you have a winning team that isn’t giving up anything.”
Of Frazier reaping the benefits of Rolen’s acumen, Baker said, “Some of it is going to rub off by osmosis if you pay attention at all. How can you not learn from him? But of it came from Todd’s hard work and what a guy like Scott does is smooth off the rough edges. He’s doing good.”
Frazier was particularly proud of the play he made on Mayberry in the ninth inning Tuesday and said, “Yeah, that felt good because you never know what can happen there. I just tried to knock it down. Then you come up and just have to fire it over there.”
Firing it over there to first base is the one thing Frazier would like to steal from Rolen. No matter from what angle Rolen always seems to deliver his throws to first baseman Joey Votto chest-high.
“When he threw the ball to first base, it was always head-level or chest-level, an easy catch for the first baseman,” said Frazier. “That’s something I want to get down pat, so Joey Votto doesn’t have to do much. To see Rolen do that every time was pretty cool.”
And so far Frazier has displayed icy coolness is covering his ground at third base.