Griffey: Center still best for me
By Marc Lancaster / Post staff reporter
PITTSBURGH - If Ken Griffey Jr. is to move from center field to one of the corner outfield spots, he would prefer to do it on his own terms.
"I think when I feel that I can't play that position, then I will be able to go into the office and tell them," he said Friday. "If I feel that I'm hurting the team being out there, then I'll do that. But I don't think that I'm hurting this team at all being at the position where I'm at."
It's understandable that Griffey would be reluctant to vacate a position he once defined, winning 10 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1990-99, but he knows the chatter about whether he should do so probably has reached an all-time high.
Griffey's range isn't what it once was, but he insists it doesn't need to be for him to do his job well. He says his ever-expanding knowledge of opposing players and his studies of their skills and tendencies allow him to position himself far better than he did in his more fleet-footed youth, and that makes a significant difference.
"I mean, if they go out and get Carl Lewis to play the outfield, that's a different story," he said with a smile. "But we don't have that type of runner."
Well, there is Ryan Freel, but most around the team are wary of plugging the utilityman into a single, everyday job. Particularly one as grueling as center field, where the potential would exist for Freel to wear himself out more quickly than normal.
During the two stretches this season that Freel served as the regular center fielder, April 13-May 10 and Sept. 5-20, he hit just .194 (25-for-129) with seven extra-base hits while striking out 30 times.
Barring the acquisition of a clearly superior defensive center fielder in the offseason, Griffey plans to be back where he always has been come spring training. Of course, he also expects more of himself next season.
"I sometimes felt a little tired during parts of the season," he admitted.
Part of the blame for that can be doled out to an unusual winter. After undergoing a pair of surgeries last September, Griffey wasn't fully recovered until December, and before he knew it he had to be ramped up to game speed a couple of weeks earlier than usual to play in the World Baseball Classic.
Griffey excelled in that March event, but struggled to remain consistent at the plate once the season began. His run-production numbers are solid, with 27 homers and 72 RBIs in 109 games, but his .252 batting average is a disappointment.
He's looking forward to a more conditioning-oriented workout regimen this offseason, under the watchful eye of Reds strength coach Matt Krause. The two live about 30 minutes apart in the Orlando area and get together often during the winter.
"We're going to go back to some things that I was able to do when I was playing in Seattle," said Griffey. "(Like) being able to ride my bike a couple times a week, where the last couple years it was weight, weight, weight - everything was 'get stronger.' Now, it's trying to get the endurance up without taking all the pounding. We'll still do some weightlifting, but not as much."
That approach may help Griffey regain a step or two in the outfield. Either way, Griffey pledged to evaluate himself honestly. Looking at it as objectively as he can, he does not believe his presence in center field is detrimental to the team.
"I don't think it's at that point," he said. "We'll see how I feel at the beginning of the season and if I'm playing well. If not, we'll discuss it."