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03/15/09 6:46 PM ET

Janish aiming to leave a lasting impact

Shortstop started Major League career with a game-winning flourish

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Players only get one first day in the Major Leagues, and Paul Janish certainly knew what to do with his. Now, he's trying to make a lasting impression.

A Reds shortstop prospect, Janish was promoted from Triple-A Louisville on May 14 when Jeff Keppinger went down with a fractured kneecap. After entering that night's game vs. the Pirates as an eighth-inning defensive replacement, Janish's RBI single in the bottom of the 10th was the walk-off game-winner.

The moment had all the elements of boyhood fantasy you could want. Janish was mobbed by teammates at first base and even left with a bloody nose.

"That was tough to beat," Janish said. "It was ideal, and I wouldn't change anything. It was an emotional high, without a doubt. That was probably my No. 1 memory in baseball. It will be tough to compare to that, but I want to work on getting to the big leagues and staying there."

Janish wound up starting 18 games at shortstop for Cincinnati and played in 38 games over two different callups. And despite rave reviews for his defensive prowess, the 26-year-old struggled to get any traction at the plate.

In 80 at-bats, Janish batted .188 with one home run, six RBIs, seven walks and 18 strikeouts. He often looked overmatched against big league pitchers, but has shown some improvements this spring that could aid his chances in the batter's box.

"I think I mentally took on the approach to slow it down," said Janish, who batted .252 in 92 games at Louisville last season.

The corrections haven't all been mental. He has taken steps to improve his bat speed, and manager Dusty Baker has paid attention to the progress.

"I've noticed that he looks stronger," Baker said. "Every time I go in the weight room to work out, he's in there. He's working on his hands and his forearm strength. We asked him to work on his hand strength, and that's what he's doing. The stronger your hands are and wrists, the better you can handle the bat."

This spring, Janish doesn't have the inside track for a reserve infielder role. With Alex Gonzalez likely back regularly at shortstop, Keppinger is expected to be the primary utility infielder, along with Jerry Hairston Jr. But Janish, as well as Adam Rosales, should have reason to be ready. Last season, the Reds lost four shortstops to injuries, and none of them were Janish.

In 13 spring games, Janish, who went 0-for-2 on Sunday against the Blue Jays, is batting .273 (6-for-22).

Like last spring, Janish is trying to maximize his versatility by showing he can also play second base and third base. Over 477 Minor League games, he has appeared in just 14 games at second base and six at third base, and all of those were over the past two seasons.

"Janish, he can pick it," Baker said. "I don't care where you play him. You can play him at third. You can play him at second. You can play him anywhere. If the guy is a shortstop, you can play him anywhere. He can play the outfield, too."

Janish was a late defensive replacement at second base for Brandon Phillips on Sunday. For many natural shortstops, moving to the other side of the infield takes an adjustment period.

"But it's been like night and day this year," Janish said. "I feel like I've played there before, and it's starting to become natural. This year, I haven't really thought twice about it. I've gotten to play quite a bit and move around the infield. I think my role, if I get to be in the big leagues, is as a utility player, initially. I enjoy moving around the infield and I'm swinging the bat pretty well, so I'm excited."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.