CINCINNATI — Drew Stubbs and his .220 batting average sat in the dugout during a game for the third game Friday night, but that doesn’t mean he is doing nothing but ravaging pumpkin seeds.
His real work is before games, private lessons and sessions with hitting coach Brook Jacoby and manager Dusty Baker.
“As much as you hate to do it, like a parent, sometimes you have to hit rock bottom, then they are open to any kind of suggestions,” said Baker.
And Stubbs is so rock-bottom that he has stone burns on his posterior. He is 5 for 40 (.125) with 18 strikeouts. With each strikeouts, his ears are assaulted ever harder by the seat occupants in Great American Ball Park.
Most fans cannot understand why Baker continues to play the 27-year-old center fielder and No. 1 draft pick in 2006 when he strikes out with alarming frequency — 141 times in 436 at-bats. Last year he led the league in strikeouts with 205.
What makes the tutorial of Stubbs easier is that Chris Heisey, The People’s Choice, the guy fans want to replace Stubbs, is charcoal hot while replacing Stubbs (six-game-hitting streak, 10-22, .455, two home runs, seven RBI).
But he is not a permanent fix. Stubbs is the guy they are trying to fix.
“Stubbs is my center fielder, I need Stubbs in center field, is the center fielder,” Baker said with pointed emphasis. “We’re trying to make some chances in his approach. His lack of ability is not the issue. His ability is darn near as good as anybody in the league.
“And let’s face it, Stubbs is still one of the best center fielders in the league,” Baker added.
Five professional scouts, two of whom are former general managers, were in the Great American Ball Park press box earlier this week and they were asked if Stubbs was in their Top Five best defensive outfielders.
All five put him in their top three. When one was told fans criticize Stubbs for not diving for balls, the scout laughed and said, “He never needs to dive. He outruns the ball.”
Said another, “Every pitcher on that staff owes him a steak dinner because I’ve seen him chase balls in the gap and save every pitcher they have some runs. And nobody in the league runs on him because of his arm.”
It’s the bat, though, the lack of its usage, that keeps Stubbs submerged from fan recognition.
“Center field is a major part of your defense, a big part,” said Baker. “We just have to figure out a way to get him more productive offensively.”
Amazingly enough, despite his .220 average and plethora of strikeouts, the Reds are 46-6 when he scores a run. They have a .602 winning percentage, but when Stubbs is in the lineup batting second it climbs to .636 (56-30).
“If we can come up with an offensive Stubbs to go with the defensive Stubbs in one body we’d have a hell of a player, a great player,” said Baker. “But you can’t do that, but we’re trying to help him figure it out. But sometimes you have to figure out some things on your own.”
What even mystifies Baker is that Stubbs has scored 71 runs, third on the team, despite an on-base percentage of a woeful .287 and said, “As cold as he’s been, I don’t know how in the heck he does it, but he scores all those runs. And when he scores we win (46-6), another thing that is unbelievable. We just have to figure out a way for him to score some more and we’ll win some more.”
Baker knows the fans are the least patient and least tolerant, but said, “Sometimes you don’t figure it out just when somebody wants you to figure it out. Look at Edwin Encarnacion. Nobody is mentioning Edwin.”
Encarnacion was a high-end third baseman for the Reds, a guy with stardom stenciled on his forehead. But it didn’t materialize in Cincinnati and the Reds traded him to Toronto in 2009 in the Scott Rolen deal.
After three mediocre years with the Blue Jays, Encarnacion exploded this year and is hitting .282 with 37 home runs and 95 RBIs.
“There is a guy who figured it out,” said Baker. “It took him a few years, but he figured it out. Scouts see what’s there, which is why Stubbs was a No. 1 pick. It’s not always obvious, but it is what could or might be.”
Baker ever reached back to the days of Big Red Machine shortstop Dave Concepcion and said, “Everybody doesn’t reach it or find it at the same time. Concepcion’s first couple of years he was just a glove who couldn’t hit (.205, .209 his first two full seasons),” said Baker. “With Tony Perez being his roommate and hanging around Joe Morgan he figured it out (.287, .281 his third and fourth full seasons).”
Stubbs has Scott Rolen and Joey Votto to help him figure it out, but Reds fans hope it comes sooner than later because for them it already has been too late.