Notes: Kearns meeting expectations
In lineup every day, outfielder feeling more comfortable
By Jason Grey / Special to MLB.com
PHOENIX -- There were a lot of expectations placed on Austin Kearns after he finished third in the Rookie of the Year balloting in 2002.
After a few seasons of battling through various difficulties, it appears Kearns is finally ready to meet them.
Kearns had a seven-game hit streak, in which he hit .520 (13-for-25), snapped on Saturday night but has gone hitless in consecutive games just once this season. He is among the league leaders in hits, doubles and multi-hit games.
For his part, manager Jerry Narron doesn't think there is much that is different about him this year.
"I really don't think there's a big difference," Narron said. "I don't think he's doing anything different. He knows he's going to be in the lineup close to every day, so that might help him."
That indeed might be the key. When Wily Mo Pena was traded at the end of Spring Training, it assured that Kearns' name would be a fixture on the lineup card.
"I think playing every day has helped a lot," Kearns said. "I'm more relaxed up there and not trying to do too much. It allows you to work through some things if you have a couple of bad games in a row, and in the past it wasn't that way, so you try to take advantage of being out there."
After Kearns' fine 2002 campaign, in which he hit .315 with 13 homers in 102 games, things went downhill, mostly due to injuries.
He suffered a torn labrum and a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder that ended his season early in 2003. A broken left arm and a right thumb injury cost him most of 2004.
Last season, in the midst of a poor start and some concerns about his overall conditioning, he was sent to Triple-A for more than a month. He eventually returned to set career highs in homers and RBIs, giving the Reds hope that they would finally be able to see what a healthy, productive Kearns could do over a full year in the big leagues.
So far, so good.
"I think confidence is the big thing," said the 25-year-old right fielder. "I'm pretty hard on myself when it comes to baseball stuff, and it's easy to be that way, so confidence is a big thing for me."
Resting up: Ryan Freel has struggled recently, with just three hits in his last 24 at-bats to drop his average to .237. Narron thinks he's pressing at the plate a little bit.
"I'm sure he is [pressing]," said Narron. "He's human and he's been struggling and he has to be wanting to hit every time he goes up, but he's going to be fine."
Narron has often talked about making sure that he doesn't overwork Freel, and he gave him the day off on Sunday.
"Over the last three weeks he's played almost every day," Narron said, "and I think it will help him by taking a couple of days off, as much as I like seeing him in the everyday lineup."
Offense and defense: The Reds offense has gained a lot of notoriety through the first month of the season by leading the National League in runs scored. Because of that, it's easy to overlook how well the rotation has been performing. Over the last 10 games, the starters have posted a 2.60 ERA.
"We've pitched well, we really have. I'm tickled to death at the way we've pitched," Narron said.
A special moment: The Reds and Pirates will play in this summer's exhibition Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 15. The Reds have not played in the game since 1967.
Four-year-old Kobe Stenson, son of the late Reds outfielder Dernell Stenson -- who was killed in Phoenix during the 2003 Arizona Fall League -- will throw out a ceremonial first pitch at the game. Stenson was shot and then run over with his own SUV on Nov. 5, 2003, in what appeared to be a carjacking, but was ultimately determined to be part of a more elaborate robbery scheme. Ken Griffey Jr. will meet with the young boy and asked the Hall of Fame if Kobe could throw the pitch.
Finally nabbed: Felipe Lopez was caught stealing in the first inning of Sunday's game, ending a streak of 11 straight to start the season, the most since Deion Sanders stole 11 in a row to begin the 1997 season. No Reds player had done more than that since Gary Redus went 15-for-15 in 1984.
Did you know? If you believe in omens, the start of the Reds season is a good sign of possible things to come. At 20-11 going into Sunday afternoon's game, the team is off to its best start since the 1995 playoff team began with the same record. Winning 21 of their first 32 games hasn't happened since the 1990 World Series champion club went 24-8.
On deck: Monday is a travel day back to Cincinnati, where the Reds will open a six-game homestand against the Nationals on Tuesday night. Southpaw Brandon Claussen (2-3, 5.63 ERA) will start for the Reds, with Tony Armas Jr. (2-2, 3.98 ERA) going for the Nationals.
Jason Grey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.