Reds’ Stubbs no conventional leadoff hitter

CINCINNATI — Whatever a prototypical leadoff hitter might be, Cincinnati Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs knows it isn’t him.

Nevertheless,

despite early-season grumbling from fans all over Redsland, Stubbs is

and shall remain the leadoff hitter. Manager Dusty Baker could order

some blank lineup cards and have Stubbs’ name permanently printed in the

No. 1 spot.

Stubbs has batted leadoff for 31 of the Reds’ 33

games, and the only two times he didn’t was when Baker gave him the day

off. Stubbs was at his normal spot Wednesday and contributed only a

harmless single in the eighth inning, but that was more than most of his

mates contributed in a 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates that ended

Cincinnati’s five-game winning streak.

The Reds collected only

five hits off right-hander Charlie Morton, who needed just 106 pitches

as the Reds were shut out for only the second time this season.

Fans

shudder over the number of times Stubbs strikes out. As he did last

season, Stubbs leads the team in strikeouts with 45 in 165 at-bats.

While

he doesn’t want to strike out, he shrugs and says, “Depending upon the

situation, what’s the difference whether I strike out or hit a deep fly

ball to the center-field wall? Both are outs.”

Stubbs said he

knows the name Bobby Bonds, but didn’t know the father of Barry Bonds

was a proficient leadoff hitter who struck out even more than Stubbs

does. And also like Bonds, Stubbs hits a lot of home runs, drives in a

lot of runs, steals a lot of bases and is a general pain in the rosin

bag to opposing pitchers.

Baker, who has resisted fans’ bleating

to remove Stubbs from the leadoff spot, sees the 26-year-old Texan

improving with nearly every at-bat. He is hitting .279 with seven

homers, one behind team leader Jay Bruce, and 20 RBI, six behind team

leader Brandon Phillips and only four behind NL MVP Joey Votto.

And Stubbs has 14 stolen bases in 15 attempts, second most in the league.

Early

last season, Stubbs said he felt uncomfortable batting leadoff, but

this year he is as comfortable as a 10-year-old La-Z-Boy recliner.

“I’m

feeling good in all facets of the game this year,” he said. “You kind

of use the momentum of the team, something you can feed off and it helps

you pick up your own game, push it to the next level. I think I’m doing

that.”

And the difference between last year and this year?

“When

you can start off the year on the right foot and not have to feel like

you are always trying to dig yourself out of a big hole, like I was

trying to do last year, it is a lot easier to come out and be

comfortable. You don’t have to worry about getting where you believe you

need to be. You can go out and have fun and do the job you need to do.”

Stubbs defies the critics who say he shouldn’t be the leadoff hitter.

“I

know I’m not what they consider prototypical. But what is it?” he said.

“I know I can do a lot of stuff that you need at the top of the order —

I’ve done a decent job of getting on base (.455 OBP) to help

manufacture runs (team-leading 32). We don’t have that prototypical guy,

I guess, but I seem to be the best fit.”

Of his strikeouts,

Stubbs says, “I know it is not ideal to strike out that much, but at the

same time if your on-base percentage is up, if you are getting your

hits, if you are getting your walks (22, second behind Votto),

ultimately a strikeout is the same as any other out. If the numbers that

need to be there are there, so be it.”

Fantasy league players

love Stubbs and he is among the 10 most coveted players. When told that,

Stubbs smiled and said, “That surprises me. I don’t put myself in the

category of all those great players out there, so I am surprised.”

When

it was explained that he is valued because he hits for average and

power, scores and drives in runs and steal bases, coveted numbers for

fantasy folks, he smiled and said, “Now I understand.”

What Baker likes is the improvement, in all areas, oozing out of Stubbs.

“You

always bank on a player maturing and getting better,” Baker said. “You

try to leave whatever negatives or weaknesses you have and enhance your

strengths and become consistent over a long period of time.

“You

hope guys learn from experience, learn from talking and listening to

other guys, and learn some things through our help to speed up the

learning process,” Baker added. “That’s our job, especially with a young

player. Young people have more of an open mind and absorb a whole lot

more and have a whole lot more to learn. If they see some success during

that learning curve, it is easier to teach it and easier for them to

yearn for more.”

Stubbs learned from his early misdeeds last year,

and the javeline-quick 6-foot-4, 200-pounder became only the ninth

player in Reds history to hit 20 or more homers and steal 30 or more

bases.

“He can, and will, do better, a lot better,” Baker said.

“He’ll be around a long time and he’ll be a star — as our leadoff

hitter.”