7/11/2013 9:17 P.M. ET
Baker remains confident in No. 2 hitter Cozart
By Jon Cooper / Special to MLB.com
ATLANTA -- Reds manager Dusty Baker is looking for improvement out of the second spot in his order, and he believes that shortstop Zack Cozart is the man who can give it to him.
Cozart has struggled coming into Atlanta, hitting 1-for-11 on the current road trip and 3-for-31 in July, but Baker isn't ready to ground the third-year pro. Actually, he'd prefer that the shortstop ground himself.
"He has to stay out of the air, No. 1," said Baker, who talked to his 27-year-old shortstop prior to the game. "There's nothing up in the air but outs.
"He dug himself a pretty big hole to start the season, which makes it like no matter how good you do, you're still in a hole," Baker added, referring to Cozart's .208 April.
Baker also believes that the numbers might be a little deceiving in Cozart's case.
"He's hit some balls hard for nothing," Baker said. "Now, in my mind, hitting the ball hard is not struggling. A guy can struggle, but he's getting hits. He's getting all bloopers. One day he's going to fall out of that tree and break his neck. The next guy, you keep hitting that ball hard and don't get discouraged, you're going to come out of it. He's hit some balls right on the nose, especially to center field."
Cozart likely will stay in the two-hole for a while as Baker lets him hit his way out of his struggles.
"I already had him down. I had him down in the seventh-hole probably half the time," said Baker, who batted Cozart seventh in 17 games, netting a .150 result. "You have to learn some kind of way. Someday he's going to be an excellent second hitter. We're teaching guys how to hit at the big league level, how to hit. There's a big difference between swinging and hitting. So sometimes you make your adjustments. Sometimes you have to spot who's the best man for the job ... who's available."
Hanigan tries to play through pain, but lands on DL
ATLANTA -- Sometimes rest is the only answer to an injury, as unpleasant as that may be.
Such is the case with Ryan Hanigan.
The Reds catcher was put on the disabled list prior to Thursday night's series opener with the Atlanta Braves with a strained left wrist. The injury first flared up Tuesday in Milwaukee and proved too painful to play through.
"We tried to gut it out and he tried to gut it out and we tried to wait as long as possible," said manager Dusty Baker. "It got to a point where it wasn't going to get well if he kept swinging and kept diddling with it. So we thought we'd use the DL. With the four days off and then the All-Star break, he'll probably miss no more than 10 games instead of 15."
Hanigan has had a frustrating season, hitting .193 with two homers and 14 RBIs. He had been struggling lately, hitting .154 over his last 10 games, and that included a 2-for-2 game on July 1. It's been a tough season for the seven-year pro, who already was on the DL with a left oblique injury.
Veteran Corky Miller was called up from Triple-A Louisville. The 37-year-old Miller hit .125 in six games at the end of April and early May, and was hitting .203 with four homers and 19 RBIs for the Bats.
Baker expects the veteran to contribute more with his leadership and experience than with his bat.
"A guy like Corky Miller knows our staff," the manager said. "He was Devin [Mesoraco's] mentor, so he'll even make him better by being here. Hopefully he can contribute some while he's here playing."
Choo gets Reds going in right direction
ATLANTA -- The Cincinnati Reds are strong believers that where you start -- or at least the way you do -- is as important as where you finish. The numbers back up that belief.
The Reds are 38-14 in games when they score the first run, a trend they hoped to continue and add to after taking a 1-0 first-inning lead in Thursday night's series opener with the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.
To that end, there is center fielder and leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo.
Choo began Thursday night with an eight-game hitting streak -- currently the longest on the team -- and needed only five pitches to extend it to nine with a single. He'd score two batters later to give the Reds their 1-0 lead.
It's the kind of jumpstart he knows the team needs and for which it looks to him.
"I always try to help the team. I want to get on base," said Choo, who with his first-inning single off Atlanta's Tim Hudson improved to .412 (14-for-34) during the streak. "We have a tremendous lineup. If I get on base, I have a really good chance to score. I think my focus is getting on base."
During the streak, when he does get on base and scores -- which he's done three times -- the Reds are 3-0. They're 1-4 when Choo doesn't come around.
Reds manager Dusty Baker is enjoying the hot streak his center fielder is on, and is especially pleased with the way Choo -- who played his first eight seasons in the American League -- has done it while learning the National League on the fly.
"Things go in streaks. He started off hot, super-hot, and then all of a sudden the league adjusted to him and he had to make some adjustments to some people he hadn't seen," Baker said. "He hasn't been around the league once. In the American League, he knew everybody, how they walked, talked, where they slept, where they ate, everything. But in this league, you have to learn the opposition. He's on the way back, big time."
Choo isn't using the lack of familiarity as an excuse for any lack of consistency, ala the nine-game slump he had preceding the current run, when he hit .129 (4-for-31 with 10 strikeouts). He's looking to be consistent, and sees NL pitching as pretty consistent to what he saw in the AL.
"I think pitchers do the same thing in the American League," Choo said. "People told me, 'You'll see a lot of fastballs in the National League,' but I don't think so ... 2-0 count, 1-0, you'll still see offspeed, four-seams. Sometimes first innings, pitchers throw the first pitch offspeed. I don't think leagues change pitching style."
His Reds teammates certainly don't want him to change his style.
"He's the MVP on this team. When he gets it going, we all just follow him," said All-Star second baseman Brandon Philips. "That's what it's all about. Once he gets it started, you can't beat us. That's the type of team we are. We have to have somebody who's going to be the person that's going to get us started, turn it up, bring that swag. Shin-Soo Choo, he is the one that gets it going, and once he starts doing it, nobody could beat us."
Choo was flattered by Philips' remarks, and insists he's not going to change anything he does.
"Brandon said that? I appreciate it," said Choo. "Especially when teammates think that, that's something special for me. But I'm just going to keep playing, doing what I'm doing."
• Outfielder Chris Heisey's left elbow was feeling much better on Thursday, good enough for him to start against the Braves. Heisey -- who was hit by pitches in back-to-back at-bats, his final one Monday and first one on Tuesday -- had to leave the game after getting hit with a 95-mph fastball by Milwaukee's Wily Peralta. Heisey was hit on the inside of the arm in the eighth inning Monday night by Milwaukee's Jim Henderson. He sat out Wednesday as a precaution.
"It's pretty sore, but at the same time, I've been able to get most of my range of motion back," Heisey said prior to Thursday night's game. "That's baseball. The first one got me in the forearm. I could deal with that. But the second one on the bone on the elbow, and those guys throw hard. I'm just glad I didn't miss more time than I did."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.