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Baker: Leadoff spot needs combination of skills

Does a leadoff hitter need to draw walks? Or does he need to hit for power?

Reds manager Dusty Baker said before Sunday’s exhibition game with the Royals that the combination a good leadoff hitter offers isn’t a rigid recipe, but a guy who can add a bit of everything.

“Most of the time you have guys who can run, but can’t hit. And then you have guys who can hit, but can’t run,” Baker said.

Baker gave Sunday’s start to speedster Billy Hamilton, who’s being groomed for the leadoff role, but through the early portion of the spring falls into the former category. Hamilton had only reached base twice in 13 at-bats before Sunday, but had three steals. The Reds struggled offensively, dropping an 8-1 decision to a Kansas City team that’s yet to lose in nine starts. Cincinnati is now 2-9.

Meanwhile, Shin-Soo Choo had the afternoon off, but he’s already scored five times in as many games. He was held out of the lineup again on Sunday due to a tight quadricep, although he’s close to returning and might have played if Opening Day was closer.

In Choo, Baker has a guy who has the tools to set the table. He’s happy to have that dynamic again.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had a bona fide leadoff man,” Baker said. “I’ve had guys who do well in that spot, but it’s been a while since I had guys like Kenny Lofton. I’ve been around Brett Butler, I had Marvin Benard in San Francisco. Those guys are harder to find than run producers.”

While Choo was off, Hamilton got a glimpse of Royals’ Alex Gordon, who posted a monster leadoff season in 2011 with 23 homers, 87 RBIs and 101 runs. Gordon hit a solo home in the third inning on Sunday, then singled, stole second and scored in the fifth.

“It’s hard to find that combination of speed, hitting ability and relative power, and the savvy to know how to get on base,” Baker said.

Learning from Latos: Among those scheduled to pitch against the Diamondbacks today (3:05 p.m. EST) is Curtis Partch, a 6-foot-5 reliever who’s struck out five in just under five innings of work.

The big right-hander has inched his way through the ranks after being selected in the 26th round back in 2007. He spent most of last season with Double-A Pensacola, finishing with a 7-4 record in 45 appearances.

Partch said he’s been refining his mechanics thanks to some help from Reds pitching coach Bryan Price, and added that he likes a heavy workload.

“I don’t mind pitching a lot. I like the opportunities,” Partch said. “Hopefully, I can open some eyes and impress people.”

Also, the 26-year-old Partch has been picking up words of wisdom from starter Mat Latos, with whom he shares a similar build.

“Latos has been giving me some tips, not necessarily about mechanics, but just pitching-wise, an approach to hitters,” Partch said. “Things like being more aggressive with my fastball and how it sets up my other pitches.”

Paul producing: Xavier Paul hit cleanup on Sunday, and although he went 0-for-2, Baker said the left-handed pull hitter continues to be a good fit for the club.

Paul hit .314 for the Reds in 86 at-bats after being acquired from Pittsburgh last year.

“He’s a left-handed bat off the bench. You try to have balance off the bench. I’m not saying he’s on the team already, but he’s a front-runner,” Baker said. “You prefer to have a switch-hitter off the bench, but they’ve got to switch hit. If they aren’t switch hitting, you might as well have one side or the other.”

Extra bases: Will Joey Votto play for Team Canada? It’s been a hot topic in camp, especially the World Baseball Classic now underway and the Canadians preparing for their opener on Friday. He’s sure to get his juices flowing when he speaks to the Canadian media this morning for a scheduled press conference. There’s been plenty of speculation, but Hal McCoy has predicted Votto will indeed play, although just as a designated hitter. Votto’s health doesn’t seem much of a concern at this point: he cracked another double to right field in his opening at-bat on Sunday, his second in as many days. … The defensive highlight of the day came from Jay Bruce, who made a sliding catch near the right field line to rob Chris Getz of a hit. At the time, the Royals were ahead 2-0 and had a pair of runners on base. Paul was a close second with a nice grab in the top of the fifth. … The announced crowd at Goodyear Stadium on a warm, but overcast day was 2,691, although it seemed hardly possible in the 10,300-seat stadium.

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