Janish’s defense earning spot in Reds lineup

CINCINNATI — It was 1958 and the Cincinnati Reds’ shortstop was Roy McMillan, day after day after day after day.

They
played 154 games at that time and McMillan was at shortstop for 145 of
them, despite a miniscule batting average that was at .229 when the
season ended.

Manager Birdie Tebbetts was asked, “Why do you keep playing that guy when he doesn’t hit?”

Tebbetts said, “Because his glove is worth 100 points on his batting average.”

Current
Reds shortstop Paul Janish smiled broadly when somebody told him that
story and said, “There is a lot to be said for that.”

It is
expected that Janish would think like that, because so far in his young
career he is a McMillan clone — a glove that cleans up the shortstop
area like Swiffer, but a bat that sometimes is deathly silent.

Manager
Dusty Baker subscribes to the Tebbetts theory and says, “We all know
how important defense is, especially up the middle, and there aren’t
many better with the glove than Paul Janish.”

However, even Janish
began to wonder if the only way he might get a hit would be to order
one from Neiman-Marcus, no matter what the price.

While the Reds
were on a recent road trip through Cleveland, Philadelphia and Atlanta,
Janish would have done just as well to walk to home plate without a bat.
Maybe he’d get a walk.

At one point Janish was 2 for 46, which
doesn’t put a severe dent in your batting average, it wrecks it. During
that slide into a depthless pit, his average slithered from .283 to
.207.

The amazing thing is that Janish was hitting the ball hard
time after time, but it was either right at a defender or it died near
the wall and was caught by an outfielder.

And what made it worse
is that the Reds lost eight of 10 on the trip — double jeopardy for the
28-year-old from Houston, Texas. (McMillan was from Bonham, Texas.)

“I
did run into a little misfortune on that trip, and you combine that
with the fact I was getting frustrated, and that’s what happens,” he
said. “I didn’t feel that bad at the plate, but I wasn’t getting good
results, due to the nature of our game. This game can be pretty trying
on a person’s psyche.”

Getting a few hits here and there helps
Janish’s cause, because he is labeled, ‘Good field, no hit,’ and
although the Reds said he would be the regular shortstop this season,
they signed Edgar Renteria in the offseason as an insurance policy.

And
Janish and Renteria are pretty much sharing shortstop, even though
Renteria’s bat carries a muzzle on it these days, with only a .231
average.

Janish, though, finished the trip Sunday with two hits in
Atlanta, then followed that with two more hits Monday during a 7-3 win
over Milwaukee. And during one of the team’s two wins on the road, last
Friday in Atlanta, Janish put down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt for a
run.

“Being frustrated, I got myself into a little bit of a funk
trying to do some things differently because I wasn’t getting results,”
he said. “I had to let that sort of run its course, then things started
to get a little bit better in Atlanta. Fortunately, I’ve strung a couple
of good games together and hopefully we’re headed back in the right
direction.”

Through the hitless and sleepless nights, Janish never permitted his glove to wither, kept making highlight plays at shortstop.

“I
wasn’t going to sit around and feel sorry for myself because there
isn’t any sense in worrying about it,” he said. “You can’t do anything
about it; it’s gone. I try not to take my offense on the field because I
pride myself so much on my defense. In the grand scheme of things, my
glove and my arm are why I am where I am. I try not to lose sight of
that because that is one thing you can control more than the offensive
side.”

But a few hits mixed in certainly help breakfast taste
better, the plane trips feel not so tedious and the batting average look
more respectable, even for a defensive specialist.