Heisey’s head up high in new role

If Chris Heisey’s feelings have been hurt by being relegated to unsung hero and fourth outfielder in the Reds’ grand scheme, you wouldn’t know it by the way the affable Pennsylvania native bops around the clubhouse.

Last year, Heisey was in the mix for the starting left fielder’s job, battling with veteran Ryan Ludwick. But after Ludwick’s bat reverted to reveal his early-career pop, Heisey was suddenly the odd man out. Now, with the addition of Shin-Soo Choo in center, the roles this spring are more clearly defined.

That doesn’t seem to faze the 28-year-old. His numbers in 2012 were nearly identical to those from the previous year; in fact, Heisey scored exactly as many runs (44) in exactly as many games (120). His batting average still hovered around .260 while his walk and strikeout totals were nearly the same.

So what does this season have in store for the organization’s 2009 minor league player of the year?

According to manager Dusty Baker, he’s got plenty to keep him busy, although that won’t always mean playing center field, where he started Saturday against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch.

“I think he’s a better corner man. He can play (center) in a pinch, and he can play it sometimes,” Baker said. “Heisey has a lot of effort. He plays with effort. So, he’ll probably play center field on days when Choo doesn’t.”

Heisey’s plate demeanor has been schizophrenic in the past, with Baker calling him the man “of a thousand faces when it comes to batting stances.”

But Heisey has started to settle in, and now in his fourth big-league season has grown comfortable with his place in the organization, and his place with the guy who fills out the lineup card.

“The good thing about playing for Dusty is that even if you are the fourth outfielder, you get a heck of a lot of time on the field,” Heisey said. “I’m not worried about playing time. Especially if I play well, he’ll find a way to get me in the lineup.”

Baker said the same, explaining that Heisey should expect plenty of at-bats behind Ludwick and Jay Bruce.

“He’s gonna spell Bruce,” Baker said, again calling Heisey the equivalent of a sixth man in basketball. “And I’ve gotta watch Ludwick, with his age and the injuries he’s had in the past. That’s a very valuable spot.”

With his tendency to make solid contact, it’s possible Heisey will see some key plate appearances in what’s expected to be a run at another NL Central division title.

“I think for me it’s getting used to my role, taking it seriously and knowing that I’m gonna have a chance to impact some games,” Heisey said. “Knowing that I have that opportunity makes me think that I’m a big part of this team.”

He also thinks playing for a contender makes a difference. Two of Heisey’s three seasons in the majors have resulted in postseason appearances.

“If you’re on a winning team, or a team that has high expectations, it’s definitely more important and gives you a little more credibility as a fourth outfielder,” he said.

His power dropped off last year even though Heisey took bigger cuts, his home run total falling from 18 in 2011 to seven. But he insists he’s in great condition, and he’s striving to maintain the best mental approach.

“I’m showing up ready to play, no matter what happens each day. I’m gonna get starts. I’m gonna come off the bench and pinch-hit and play defense, I’ll be ready no matter what,” he said. “I’m feeling great.”

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