Hal McCoy: Switching infielders might cut Reds' errors
By Hal McCoy

Staff Writer

HOUSTON | The errors come from the left side of the infield, mostly errant throws, like misdirected hand grenades lobbed blindly from foxholes.

The Cincinnati Reds own a ghastly 49 errors this season, most in the majors. They've given up 33 unearned runs, most in the majors.

Of the 49 errors, nearly half (24) have come from third baseman Edwin Encarnacion (13) and shortstop Felipe Lopez (11), so the left side of the infield isn't a leaky faucet, it's an open tap.

What's a manager to do? How about this? They can move second baseman Brandon Phillips (three errors) to shortstop and switch Lopez to second base.

Lopez has played third base and second base. And Phillips signed with Montreal as a shortstop. Before the Cleveland Indians traded for Phillips, five scouts watched him play in the minors, and their consensus report said: "Could become an All-Star shortstop in the majors. A terrific athlete with above average arm and hands. Excellent range."

So what's holding it up?

"At this level, you don't want to be in the position of developing players, but that's what we're doing," said Reds manager Jerry Narron. "Think about it. All of our infielders are young and inexperienced. This is a very difficult game, and yes, they have to get better."

As for making the switch?

"We're very, very pleased with the way Brandon Phillips is playing second base," said Narron. "Of all of them, he is the one guy who has a chance to win a Gold Glove."

So why not shortstop?

"That's not to say he couldn't do it and be a Gold Glover," Narron added. "Michael Young (Texas) was one of the best defensive second basemen in the game and he moved to shortstop and has done a good job.

"For something like that to happen, you probably have to do it before spring training, not in the middle of the season," he said. "That's not to say we won't do it, but it would be a spring training thing."

Thinking about it, Narron said, "Two years ago (when Barry Larkin still roamed shortstop), Felipe played third base and did real well and played good at second, convincing me he could play anywhere on the infield."

There are days when the left side plays flawlessly and spectacularly, then there are days when they kick the baseball as if it is a soccer ball and throw it as if it is a beanbag. But that's youth. That's inexperience.

"I know how hard (infield instructor) Bucky Dent works with Edwin and Felipe," Narron said. "I'd say with Edwin (23), Felipe (25) and Brandon (24), we average the youngest in baseball at those three positions."

Referring to the errors and the unearned runs, Narron said emphatically, "If we were better defensively, we might be ahead of or at least tied with St. Louis because we lead the world in unearned runs and errors. And what those errors do is make our pitchers throw more pitches, face more hitters."

St. Louis has made only 30 errors and given up 16 unearned runs, and of course, the Cardinals lead the National League in pitching (3.80 ERA), aided greatly by sharp defense.

A Phillips-Lopez switch isn't likely this year, unless the Reds fall way behind in the standings. Remember, Narron had Phillips at shortstop for the Hall of Fame exhibition game that lasted only two innings.

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