Cozart trying to make early season struggles a thing of the past

It took Zack Cozart's bat a little longer than expected to make the trip up from Spring Training.

Jeff Curry/Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI — When it is a week into the season and you haven’t had a hit, haven’t even been on base, you want to walk to the plate with a blindfold in place.

You don’t want to see the .000 on the scoreboard and the blindfold won’t hinder your hitting because, well, you have this foreboding feeling that you might never get another hit.

That was the baseball life for Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart. He not only began the 2014 season 0-for-23, he didn’t draw a walk, didn’t reach base at all.

"The last couple of days have felt a lot better," he said after getting his second hit of the season Saturday afternoon. "It is so much different starting off the season without any hits. When you are in the middle of the season and you are in a 0 for 15 slump, at least you have a batting average.

"When you come to the park, you want to concentrate on other things, but when you look at the scoreboard and see zero (.000), it is not much fun," added the 28-year old No. 2 draft pick in 2007.

What kept Cozart afloat was his defensive play and the support of manager Bryan Price and his father, David, back home in northern Mississippi.

Cozart has a couple of hits lately, but the .065 on the scoreboard is as ugly as a pimple on the end of a nose.

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Cozart came alive Sunday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays. He doubled his hit production for the season from two to four. His doubled home two runs in the second inning, singled in the third and walked in the fifth and lifted his average to .117, nearly doubling it.

Price, though, isn’t worried, isn’t concerned, and he continues to write Cozart’s name on his daily lineup cards.

"He is our shortstop and that’s the one thing he needs to know in any discussion," said Price. "He doesn’t have a long history, but he does have a history here. He doesn’t have to be a middle of the lineup run-producer. He just needs to do his thing.

"He can’t get better if he’s not in the lineup." Price added. "He is working diligently, working with Don Long (batting coach), doing everything he can to have more consistent at-bats. He is not going to get out of it by sitting on the bench. Everybody is being him and we all know he can play.

"If there was a concern about him there would have been a competition for shortstop during spring training and there wasn’t. He will be in the lineup."

Cozart believes he is coming out of it, producing more consistent at-bats. On Friday night he drilled a hard line drive against Tampa Bay’s David Price, but it darted directly to the second baseman, which is how it usually goes when a player is begging for hits.

It was just another 0-for-3, but Cozart’s father texted him after the game and said, "You looked a lot more confident in there, like you felt like you were going to do better." Said Cozart, "I didn’t have any hits that night but him telling me that was a boost."

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Of his manager’s support, Cozart said when the team was in New York for the second series of the season and he didn’t have a hit, Price called him in for a little meeting after a game.

"He told me I was his shortstop and he wasn’t worried about me," said Cozart. "He told me to keep playing hard and to keep playing defense like I do and it will turn around.

"I really appreciated it because it was five games into the season and you like to hear from your manager that it is not an issue with him," he said. "I know I’m the shortstop, but you still like to hear it from somebody like Bryan. He knows I work my butt off in the cage trying to fix whatever I’m doing wrong and continue what I’m doing right. It is not an effort thing. It is just I wasn’t hitting the ball well."

Nobody can ever question Cozart’s effort, hustle or work ethic. And even a 0 for 23 skid doesn’t accompany him from the batter’s box to the middle of the infield. His glovework is impeccable.

Cozart was standing in front of his locker in the clubhouse and glanced around, seeing Joey Votto and Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick, and he said, "Just look around this lockerroom and at some point they went through a prolonged struggle. At the end of the day, everybody in this lockerroom went through it. . .and came out of it.

"It just so happens that it is more magnified because it is the beginning of the year," said Cozart. "It is the same with the team starting 3-and-8. It is more magnified because it the start of the year."

Cozart said his comfort zone in the batter’s box is at its highest right now and, "We all know it is about confidence."

Cozart has the confidence and he has his manager covering one side of his back and his dad covering the other.