Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Edwin coming of age
BY KEVIN KELLY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
FORT MYERS, Fla. - The offensive exploits of Edwin Encarnacion are a popular topic around Reds camp.
"Torrid," teammate Jacob Cruz said, "is a word that comes to mind."
In his third plate appearance Tuesday at City of Palms Park, the Reds' third baseman sent an 0-and-2 pitch from Red Sox reliever Lenny DiNardo onto a bullpen canopy beyond the left-field wall for a two-run home run.
A single in the seventh inning of the 9-7 victory against Boston was Encarnacion's 15th hit in 11 games.
"He's more confident this year," Reds All-Star shortstop Felipe Lopez said. "He's done it at Triple-A. He's done it everywhere else. It's the same game except faster and with bigger names. It's just a matter of losing that fear of what everybody else thinks and going out there and doing your thing."
The Reds re-signed Rich Aurilia partly as an insurance policy for Encarnacion, but the 23-year-old is doing everything to prove it is his job exclusively.
"I think Eddie knows how big a year this one is," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "It's a chance to establish himself as a major-league player."
Encarnacion has six home runs and 14 RBI to go with a .484 batting average, .543 on-base percentage and 1.258 slugging percentage. He also has looked more polished in the field, committing just one error.
"I feel more comfortable with my defense and, with my offense, I think I can do the job," Encarnacion said. "If I can keep working like I have hopefully it's going to be a great year."
The Reds sent him to Triple-A to start last season despite putting forth arguably the best offensive effort of any player in camp.
Encarnacion was in a Reds uniform by June, and after a brief stint at Louisville became the team's starting third baseman when Joe Randa was traded in late July.
In 69 games with the Reds, he batted .232 and committed 10 errors. That wasn't the end of his season.
"This is my work," he says. "This is what I like to do."
Encarnacion went home to La Romana in the Dominican Republic and stayed with his family before joining the Aguilas team less than three weeks after the major-league season ended. In 31 games with Aguilas he batted .265 with four home runs and 18 RBI.
"That helped me a lot," Encarnacion said. "When I came here I was ready to play because I saw a lot of pitching."
Offense has never presented much of a problem for Encarnacion. In 616 minor-league games he fashioned a .288 batting average.
But during Encarnacion's first five professional seasons he committed 152 errors in 538 games. His 25 errors with Double-A Chattanooga during the 2004 season were his fewest committed in a season.
Enter Bucky Dent, the Reds' new bench coach and, according to insiders, one of the top infield instructors in baseball.
Three to four times a week Dent and Encarnacion, whose work ethic impresses his teammates, go to an empty field at the Reds' spring training complex.
There they work on defensive footwork.
"Sometimes when my feet are slow, my throw (to first base) isn't good," Encarnacion said. "But when I move my feet, the throw is straight every time."
Lopez also has tried to guide Encarnacion away from the defensive pitfalls that he overcame.
"He talks to me every day when we're taking groundballs," Encarnacion said. "For three years he did the same thing with his throw. He's shown me everything he did to get better."