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02-26-2007, 07:06 PM
Ross: Man behind the mask
Opportunity knocks for Ross to become everyday player
BY JOHN FAY | JFAY@ENQUIRER.CO

SARASOTA, Fla. - David Ross isn't going to play, "What if?"

As in what if he hadn't been traded to the Reds; what if Jason LaRue hadn't gotten hurt.

If those things hadn't happened, Ross might still be trying to catch his big break.

At this point last year, he was 29 years old and had never gotten more than 165 at-bats in a big-league season. The previous year, he had split time between Triple-A and the majors.

In other words, he was a long, long way from being a No. 1 catcher

But Ross went into the spring with the same plan: Work hard and hope.

"It was one of those things where everyone said: Did you know you had it in you?" he said. "Really you just keep working hard and you want to get better. You've got a goal of being in the big leagues and doing well. All you know to do is reach that goal is hard, keep grinding it out, and hopefully things fall in the right place for you."

The Reds got Ross on March 21 in a trade from San Diego for Bobby Basham. It was the day after the big trade for Bronson Arroyo. At the time everyone was wondering why the Reds added a third catcher.

People didn't wonder so much after Ross hit .311 with 12 home runs and 31 RBI in 119 at-bats before the All-Star break.

"Things worked out for me last year," he said. "I felt really comfortable up there. All I attribute that to is not giving up and working hard."

Ross never doubted himself during eight years in three organizations that led him to Cincinnati.

"You kind of know it's in there," he said. "You don't ever think this may be it or this may not be it. You keep at it until they tell you to stop showing up."

Ross started last year as Arroyo's personal catcher. But his bat moved him into the No. 1 spot by June. He ended up hitting .255 with 21 home runs and 52 RBI in 247 at-bats. The Reds had enough confidence in him to trade LaRue in the offseason. The club also signed Ross to a two-year, $4.5 million deal.

All that has changed things a great deal for Ross this spring.

"It's definitely an opportunity to come in and have a starting job, to try to be a leader on this team," he said. "I can work on the kind of things during spring training that are going to pay off during the season - rather than trying to produce to make the team. It's a different mindset. You work with guys to try to get things accomplished defensively and with the pitching staff."

Ross sees catching and working with the pitching staff as the biggest part of his job.

"You sit down and talk to guys like (Aaron) Harang who I haven't caught that much," Ross said. "I'll catch him as often as possible and talk with him."

Reds manager Jerry Narron thinks Ross can be good for the pitching staff - particularly with a full spring training and a guaranteed job.

"He's definitely capable of it," Narron said. "There's no doubt in my mind he'll do that. Last year, coming in trying to make the club, having two other catchers who had been here - that's not an easy situation to take charge. But he did a pretty good job with it. The more he catches the better he's going to be at it."

Ross, like a lot of Reds, faded down the stretch. He hit .222 in August and .185 in September. He was hitting .305 going into the dog days.

"That last month was rough," he said. "I hadn't caught that many games before."

Ross put the work in this offseason to try to combat that.

"My main focus - I'm probably going to catch more games - so my focus was to prepare my body," he said. "I don't want to break down and get tired. I think a lot it was fatigue. My legs got heavy toward the end. When you don't have your legs, it affects your hitting. It's something a lot of catchers fight down the stretch. I worked a lot this season on my lower half, so I could catch 100 games and feel like I'm strong."

The Reds would like Ross to hit like he hit in the first half. But, as he said, catching is the biggest part of his job.

"His role is defined, and he's got a lot of responsibility," Narron said. "We're all counting on him to be a leader out there on the field with the pitching staff."

http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070226/SPT04/702260328/1071