Heisey jumping out at Reds spring training

Reds outfielder Chris Heisey hopes to translate strong spring numbers into regular season production.

Benny Sieu

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Chris Heisey walked into the clubhouse Monday morning, a bag of bats slung over his shoulder. When he reached his locker and dropped the bag on the floor, his dressing neighbor, Chris Nelson, said, "Man, that was some batting practice session. You are the talk of the camp."

A writer approached Heisey and said, "You look as if you are ready for the season. You are off to a great start, really stinging the ball."

Nelson laughed and jumped to his feet and said, "See what I mean? Everybody is talking about it."

In his first three spring training games, the Cincinnati Reds outfielder is hitting .375 with a double and a home run spliced into his eight at-bats.

Not bad for a guy forever tagged as, "A fourth outfielder." While it isn’t a label any player wants, Heisey is the first to admit, "It’s my own fault. This is my fifth year and every time I’m given a chance I fail. Maybe it is nerves. Maybe it is pressure."

To that end, Heisey has dropped his hands lower in his batting stance, "And so far it is working. This early in spring you don’t want to peak too soon but it is good to get your confidence back."

And the hands? "Lowering my hands relaxes me," he said. "The higher your hands, the more tension in your shoulders and less flexibility. I have a tendency to be a tense kind of guy, so I need to be relaxed in any way possible. I’ve been all over the place in my career with my mechanics, so I don’t make any promises that I’ll hit like this forever."

His manager, Bryan Price, sniffs the potential in Heisey’s body, a body that was judged the strongest on the team during strength tests this spring.

"Heisey is terrific and there has always been a feeling there is more in there," said Price. "We’ve always felt he is the type of guy who can push for a starting spot and not be the quintessential fourth outfielder.

"I really believe that he can be a regular every day player," said Price. "He can be outstanding and he is already a very solid major-league player. He is going to get a chance to play a lot of center field this spring and we’ll give him every opportunity we can."

Right now, the opportunity is limited, unless injuries pop up — as they always do. The outfield is filled with Ryan Ludwick in left, Jay Bruce in right and rookie speed god Billy Hamilton.

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Heisey sees it and recognizes it. He is not one to gripe and complain about lack of a chance because he is the ultimate team player.

"I know that Billy is going to get every opportunity and watching him play, his skill set is something really special," said Heisey. "I’ve never seen anybody as fast as he is. People talk about us losing Shin-Soo Choo at the top of the order and, no, Hamilton may not be on base 42 percent of the time like Choo.

"But…when he is on base, he is much more of a threat and he is going to cover a lot more ground in center field," said Heisey. "He will counter-balance things by what he can do on the bases and on defense, things Choo couldn’t do."

So Heisey takes "The Good Guy" approach, as he always does. And he sits and waits. He didn’t have to wait long last year. Left fielder Ryan Ludwick wrecked his shoulder on Opening Day and Heisey took over. He played a month and then he, too, was injured and went on the DL.

"I have nobody to blame but myself for not coming into camp as an every day guy," he said. "In the limited chances I’ve had, I haven’t done well. Maybe it’s putting too much pressure on myself or circumstances. When I was playing and got hurt I wasn’t playing very well, hitting about .170. And the funny part about last April was that I was really stinging the ball but nothing would fall. Everything was right at somebody or somebody would make a great catch. It was a double whammy.

"I do feel at some point I can be relied upon to go out there every day and play the game hard and help the team win," he said. "But, right now, if Hamilton needs a day off, or any of the outfielders, they can count on me and they know that."

Heisey won’t kick, scream and demand playing time because he looks around the clubhouse and loves what he sees.

"We have something special going on here," he said. "My goal is to keep a great attitude and help the team whenever and wherever I can because I really, really like the feel of the guys we have in here. I try to keep a positive outlook about myself because being negative isn’t going to get you anywhere."

And the fact that he is a valuable man coming off the bench, either to play the outfield or pinch-hit, and he doesn’t blame anybody but himself for not playing every day is a major reason Heisey is in his fifth year in the majors, all with the Reds.