For average or mediocre baseball teams, the sixth, seventh and eighth spots in the lineup — the “bottom of the order” — can be a vast wasteland.
For the Cincinnati Reds, those spots will be occupied by third baseman Todd Frazier, catcher Devin Mesoraco and shortstop Zack Cozart. And for the Reds to succeed, those three have to be productive.
As it happens, all three are in their third years as contributing citizens to the Reds’ lineup.
Manager Bryan Price may be new to his job and he may be more conversant with pitchers than hitters due to his experience as a pitching coach, but he realizes the importance of potency at the end of the order.
In fact, he already has talked to all three about how they fit into the grand picture and how they are as important as Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick in the middle of the order.
““I want them to know we are very confident that their game will evolve to another level,” Price said.
“Those three (Frazier, Mesoraco, Cozart) are the players who have the most room to improve. I don’t think we’ve seen the best out of any of those three. There is still a high ceiling for them so there is a great deal of optimism because there is more in the tank for each one of those guys.”
Cozart certainly agrees, and there is one facet of his game he intends to showcase. Not only did he not have a stolen base all last season, he didn’t attempt one. He says Price has emphasized that change is coming.
“We’re going to be more aggressive in stealing bases and putting pressure on the defense, which I think is big,” Cozart said. “We faced certain teams last year that were stealing when they got the opportunity, and we didn’t do that. It puts pressure on the pitcher and the catcher calls a different game.
“You saw it when Billy Hamilton got on. Even Yadier Molinia (St. Louis Cardinals catcher) didn’t look comfortable. That should be a big part of it.”
Cozart began the season batting second and languished under .200, but he improved dramatically when dropped to seventh and eighth, where he will bat this year.
“I can build off the way I ended last year,” he said. “I had my learning curves, had my ups and downs, but I came out of it late in the season, ended strong and that’s what I took into the off-season. I didn’t feel good at certain parts of last season and had to lay down bunts and try my hardest to move runners and get them in. It just so happened it was sacrifice bunts and sacrifice flies.”
Cozart led the league in sacrifice bunts for a position player (13) and tied for the lead in sacrifice flies (10), but he plans to provide more conventional RBIs this year.
“I like hitting seventh and eighth because once I was put there I had a lot of RBI opportunities,” he said. “I had a lot more RBIs than I had in the past. That was another learning curve I had — how to hit with runners on base.”
That learning curve is exactly the message Price is trying to emphasize to the bottom of the order.
“Those guys have to be motivated, which they are, to get the most out of themselves,” said Price. “We, as a staff, have to create the vehicle to help them reach their potential.
“It’s big for our ballclub and our success,” Price added. “Any team that is going to be consistent and competitive has to be able to extract production from throughout the lineup. We can’t expect the middle of the order to carry us throughout the season.”
Cozart believes the bottom portion can kick in what Price wants and said, “With Mesoraco getting more playing time you’ll see a different player. Frazier and I have some time under our belts and we’re comfortable out there. We’ve earned respect from our teammates that we will show up and play hard every day. We know we can get a lot better.”