05/31/2004 3:39 PM ET
Notes: Freel likes being X-factor
Utility man likes leadoff role, shifting positions
By Todd Lorenz / MLB.com
MIAMI -- Including Monday's opener against the Marlins at Pro Player Stadium, Ryan Freel has started in 40 of the Reds' 51 games this season. He's gotten into all but five of them, yet he still has a hard time considering himself an everyday player.
|Ryan Freel returned to the lineup Sunday after sitting out with a sore knee. (Tom Uhlman/AP)
"I'm a utility guy," he said. "Just to put on a Major League uniform, it's something I've always dreamed about. Now I'm getting a chance to play almost every day. It's awesome. It's unbelievable. I love being around these guys. There are some pretty big-time guys here, so I'm living it up. It's the best feeling in the world."
Freel has started at five different positions so far this season.
Prior to starting in left field on Monday, the last 11 games and 27 overall had been at third base.
"I think it's exciting not knowing where you're going to play," Freel said. "I like coming to the park everyday wondering where I'm going to be. Lately it's been a lot of third base, but with the way Juan Castro's swinging the bat right now, what do you do?"
Reds manager Dave Miley agreed with Freel's assessment of Castro, who has eight hits in his last 15 at-bats. So he decided to keep Castro at third and get Freel a start in left field for Adam Dunn.
"Just decided to give (Dunn) a day off," explained Miley.
While Miley found a way to keep Freel's glove in the lineup, his bat had a lot to do with it, too.
Freel came in batting .255, but his speed and approach to the game have given Cincinnati a spark. So has his .351 on-base percentage.
"Wherever I bat, my mentality is to get on base," he said. "I just try to get on some how some way and maybe take a base here and there. My job is to get on base for guys like Larkin, Griffey and Casey. If I can get on and maybe steal a base, I feel like those guys are going to get me home."
"I love batting leadoff. It's what I did the whole time in the minor leagues, so it's where I'm the most comfortable."
It's also where he's most effective. Entering Monday, the Reds are 12-4 when Freel is batting in the top spot.
Castro leaves early: Freel might start seeing time at third base sooner than he thinks. Reds infielder Juan Castro left Monday's game after two innings with a strained left ribcage muscle. He was initially listed as day-to-day.
Castro struck out swinging to end the top of the second inning and threw Florida's Luis Castillo out at the plate on a groundball with one out in the bottom of the second.
Waiting game: Paul Wilson, who missed Sunday's start with tightness in his right groin, should be back in the Reds rotation very soon.
"He did some agility work today, change-of-direction type stuff," Reds trainer Mark Mann said. "He felt great -- no problems. He's taking the day off from throwing today and if he doesn't have any residual problems, he'll long toss again tomorrow. After that, we'll have him work halfway up on the mound so he has some incline and work with that. He says he feels great.
"We don't want to take any chances, so we're taking every precaution we can to get him back out there pitching every fifth day. We just felt the safest thing to do was to have him miss a start. It gives him the best chance of being ready to start when it comes to his turn again."
Miley said the Reds should have a decision on when Wilson's next start will be this Wednesday.
Bum thumb: Austin Kearns sat out his third straight game because of a sore on his right thumb.
"It's still sore, but it's definitely getting better," Mann said. "He's getting some treatment. We don't want to be in a situation where we rush him back too soon and then in four or five days we're back to square one. We're going to evaluate him each day and when it gets to the point that he has no pain when he grabs the bat, we're going to pad it and get him back out there."
Kearns is wearing a light bandage around the thumb. He's listed as day-to-day.
Wily Go: After beating out an infield single and smacking a solo homer against Florida's Tommy Phelps in Monday's game, Wily Mo Pena had hit safely in six of his last seven at-bats through the fourth inning.
Todd Lorenz is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.