HOUSTON -- In recent days and weeks, Internet bloggers have taken to posting "Free Edwin Encarnacion" messages.
Some fan blogs have even displayed a picture of the Reds third baseman behind bars. Many more fans have wondered why Encarnacion hasn't played more lately.
But no one has wondered more than Encarnacion himself.
"Yeah, it's tough. I don't know what's going on," Encarnacion said. "The thing is, when they give me an opportunity to play, I'll try to do my job and try to do the best I can. That's the best thing that can happen for me right now."
To that end, Encarnacion has held up his end of the bargain offensively. He entered Tuesday with a five-game hitting streak and batting .478 (11-for-23) with one homer and five RBIs over the last eight games he's played since he returned from the disabled list on July 6.
However, it was Rich Aurilia and his equally torrid bat that started again for Cincinnati on Tuesday. Aurilia, whose 14-game hitting streak ended Saturday as a pinch-hitter, has manned the hot corner for most of July. Encarnacion started three straight games, Thursday through Saturday.
Until he sprained his left ankle in early June, Encarnacion played every day. Manager Jerry Narron has never explained why the 23-year-old's playing time decreased, but he has made it clear all season he prefers solid defense. Encarnacion has committed a club-high 15 errors this season. That included one in his first game back from the DL, but none since. Aurilia has committed six errors combined at four positions.
"This is the first time that I have to come to the ballpark and check the lineup to see if I'm playing at all," said Encarnacion, who is batting .293 with seven homers and 41 RBIs this season. "The only thing I want is to win games. If we win games, everything will be all right."
Narron has been trying to find ways to keep the steady bats of Aurilia, Encarnacion and first baseman Scott Hatteberg in the lineup. Aurilia has played mostly third or first base this season, but he could shift to spot start in one of the middle infield spots.
"There's a chance of it," Narron said. "I came close to doing it Sunday. With [Juan] Castro and [Royce] Clayton, it's tough to do. I want to play one of them at short."
Brandon Phillips has been a fixture at second base, and Narron has been reluctant to rest his infield's best glove. But the skipper plans to make more use of Encarnacion.
"Eddie will definitely play tomorrow [against Houston lefty Andy Pettitte]," Narron said. "He'll definitely play either Thursday here or Friday in Milwaukee, maybe both."