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Mighty Casey?

Boone selects gap-hitter Casey for cleanup duty

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Posted: Wednesday March 14, 2001 3:37 AM
Updated: Wednesday March 14, 2001 6:41 AM

  Sean Casey Sean Casey rips a bases-loaded single during Grapefruit Leagie action. AP

By John Donovan,

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Bob Boone has looked over his lineup, figured out all the ways he can go with it and decided who will hit cleanup this season for the Cincinnati Reds. Here's a hint: He's not named Griffey.

Boone has chosen first baseman and fan favorite Sean Casey as his No. 4 hitter, at least for now. He'll bat behind Ken Griffey Jr. and, most likely, in front of Dmitri Young, the switch-hitting left fielder.

Casey's not the home run hitter that Griffey is -- few are -- but he's a natural hitter with a smooth stroke who always hits for a high average. He has some power, for sure, and can drive in some runs. He had 20 homers and 85 RBIs last season and 25 homers and 99 RBIs the year before.

"One thing I'm starting to realize is that it's such a long season, such a long grind," Casey said Monday before the Reds played the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in an exhibition game. "If you can stay mentally focused on every pitch, every at-bat, you can put up some big numbers."

Casey's fine with batting cleanup -- he figures anywhere in the 3-4-5 range is great for him -- and says that driving in 100 runs should not be too big of a problem. His 85 RBIs last year came in only 133 games after missing much of the early part of the season with a broken thumb. In fact, he probably came back too early as it was.

Casey at the Bat
Career splits by batting order position
No.  Games  Avg. 
#1  .000 
#2  35  .333 
#3  168  .324 
#4  44   .333* 
#5  60  .320 
#6  38  .261 
#7  17  .222 
#8  .182 
#9  15  .200 
*Casey hit .397 with seven homers and 22 RBI in 21 games at cleanup after Dante Bichette was traded on 8-31-00.

Once the thumb healed sufficiently, Casey showed just what kind of hitter he can be. He was the best hitter in the National League over the second half of last season, hitting .372, and finished the year at .315. He's a career .311 hitter.

He may not be the slugger Griffey is, but 30 home runs and a load of RBIs certainly is reachable.

"I can hit 30 home runs. Sure, of course," he said. "But I'm a gap-to-gap hitter. Sometimes I'm going to hit them out of the park. But that's not something I worry about.

"Homers have never been my objective. I'd much rather get a couple of singles and go 3-for-4 than go 1-for-4 with a homer."

It's not something Boone is especially worried about, either. His thinking in batting Casey cleanup is simple. He wants to make sure teams don't try to get too cute pitching to Griffey.

"If [opposing pitchers] are going to pitch to Junior cautiously," Boone told reporters Monday, "which they all will, no matter who's behind him, I want them to pay for it. And Casey's our best chance."

Home runs may be easier to come by this season in Cincinnati anyway. Cinergy Field has been reconfigured to make room for the construction of the Reds' new stadium (to open in 2003). A chunk of 14,000 seats has been taken out of the bowl, opening up a spot in left-center and center field in the former Riverfront Stadium that looks out toward the Ohio River and Northern Kentucky.

Grass has replaced the artificial turf and the field dimensions have shrunk slightly all around. It's very possible it may become more of a hitter's park -- though it's also possible that swirling winds could change the complexion of games there completely.

Whatever the case, Casey is healthy and willing -- and penciled in as the cleanup hitter for the Reds. If his history is any indication, that should suit both him and the Reds just fine.

Related information
Cincinnati Reds Spring Preview
SI Postcard: Cincinnati Reds camp
Reds concerned about Larkin's groin injury's John Donovan: Ready for Prime Time?
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