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03-29-2006, 08:47 AM
Griffey in mid-summer form
His swing - and stats - are sharp in preseason
BY JOHN FAY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER

SARASOTA, Fla. - As third base coach, Mark Berry gets a close-up view of Ken Griffey Jr. at the plate.

Griffey has looked very good from Berry's perch so far.

"That's the best I've seen him swing in the spring in four or five years," Berry said. "That's one quick bat."

Griffey's night at the plate Monday was about as impressive as you'll see in March.

He doubled in his first at-bat. He crushed a home run that cleared the batter's eye in center field in his second at-bat. In his third, he hit a flyout that nearly reached orbit. And he doubled in his final at-bat.

The ball he hit best came in the first at-bat - just before the double. He hit a foul ball that landed about 100 feet into the parking lot behind right field - a shot of 450 to 500 feet.

"I said, 'There goes my truck,' " Berry said.

Griffey's a lot healthier at this stage of spring training than he was a year ago.

But he said that's not the only reason he went into Tuesday hitting .467 with two homers, two doubles and five RBI in four games.

"It's confidence," he said. "I'm more confident. That's the biggest thing."

Reds manager Jerry Narron said anyone surprised by Griffey's performance wasn't paying attention to what the player did last summer.

Griffey hit .301 with 35 home runs and 92 RBI last season despite a horrible April and playing only two games in September.

"He was pretty good in June, July and August," Narron said. "I don't know if people realize that. He's just taking over where he left off."

Griffey hit .322 with 25 home runs and 55 RBI during the middle three months of the season.

His slow start last year largely can be attributed to the fact that he spent all of spring training rehabilitating from surgery to re- attach his right hamstring.

He did not hit a home run in spring training over 48 at-bats. And he didn't hit one during the regular season until April 30.

Griffey missed 26 games last season after injuring his right foot. He also had surgery Sept. 26 to clean out his left knee.

But his rehab was complete by the end of October. That gave him a chance to work on his overall strength. His legs have been under him since the start of spring training.

Griffey also got a head start this spring by playing in the World Baseball Classic. He was one of the best players in the WBC, hitting .524 with two doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI in 21 at-bats for the United States team.

A lot of those at-bats came under pressure before big crowds.

"Those at-bats I saw from the World Classic were good at-bats," Narron said.

"At-bats in the World Classic probably count for two or three spring training at-bats."

Griffey agrees.

"The whole thing was a plus," he said. "I got to play games under the lights out there. It was good to get those games in."

Last year, Griffey was held out of spring games for the first two weeks because of his rehabilitation.

"It's different this year," he said. "I don't have to talk to trainers every day about whether I'm having any discomfort."

He certainly looks comfortable at the plate.

E-mail jfay@enquirer.com

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