McCoy: Reds’ Winker trying to shed no defense label

There is no doubt that a Louisville Slugger bat in Jesse Winker’s hands is a lethal weapon. And there never was a doubt that Winker can hit a baseball with the best of them.

On the other hand, Winker’s right hand, there were those who always wondered if he wore a baseball glove for no apparent reason.

They said he played left field because he had to play somewhere before he batted.

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And while his hitting is over the top so far this season, it probably has shielded the fact that Winker is patrolling left field for the Cincinnati Reds with style and upgraded ability.

It bothers Winker that he carries the label, “Good hit, no field,” and he is thrilled when his defensive improvement is noticed.

“I have worked hard defensively, man,” he said. “You know, in baseball you get a label attached to you. And it becomes so hard to shed that label. I’m not saying I’m a Gold Glove defender, but I do feel like I’ve made some strides.”

That label has been plastered across Winker’s forehead like a baseball scarlet letter.

“For all my baseball life I’ve had this label that I’ve lacked defensively,” he said. “As a person, when people are saying that about you, it’s not fun. It’s really not. And I wanted to get better at it because I was sick of it. I was sick of hearing that I was a liability in left.

“I feel I have gotten better and to me, as a person, seeing positive results, that should make you feel good, right?” he added.

If what he is accomplishing makes one feel good, then Winker couldn’t possibly feel any better about what he is doing in the batter’s box.

Going into Saturday’s game against the Chicago Cubs, which he won’t play due to minor back spasms, Winker’s slash line was .370/.414/.679 with six homers, five doubles, a triple and 16 RBI.

“Like everything else in the game, it’s a long year and I’'m just going to keep plugging at my defense,” he said. “For the rest of my time as a baseball player I’m going to try to break that stigma. You don’t break it in one year. You don’t break it in a week. It takes time to get that label attached to you, so it takes time to get that label off of you.”

Winker didn’t say it, but his manager, David Bell, said it: “Winker wants to win a Gold Glove.” And he appreciates the due diligence Winker is applying to become a high quality defender.

“I think his defense is lost a little bit because he is such an important part of our offense and he is having such a strong start offensively,” said Bell. “But, yeah, … I think he has worked even harder on his defense than any part of his game.

“It is very important to him to be respected as a defender and as an all-around player,” said Bell. “He takes it very personal and serious. His goal is to win a Gold Glove and it has shown up. He’s definitely improved in all areas. He is throwing well, he is moving much better than maybe two years ago, covering a lot more ground, getting good jumps.”

Bell paused for effect and said, “He is a good outfielder.”

And when Winker wins that Gold Glove, he can hold it up for all his former critics to see and say, “This, friends, is my new label.”

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