CINCINNATI -- Austin Kearns has heard his name in trade rumors, and he's seen the multitude of clubhouse shakeups the Reds have made in the first few months of this '05 season.
So when he received the news late Saturday night that the Reds would be sending him down to Triple-A Louisville, the initial shock didn't take long to wear off.
"I was surprised," Kearns said as he packed up his belongings in the Reds' clubhouse Sunday. "But with the stuff that's happened this year, nothing surprises me anymore."
Kearns' struggles at the plate this season were certainly a surprise. After a stellar spring in which he clearly won the starting right field job over Wily Mo Pena, he was expected to have a breakout season.
Instead, he hit .224 with six homers and 25 RBIs, including just three hits in his past 36 at-bats (.083) and a .176 average with runners in scoring position.
"It just didn't come together for him," general manager Dan O'Brien said.
With numbers like those, Kearns was destined to lose his starting job when Pena came off the disabled list earlier this week.
Then Kearns lost his spot on the roster altogether. The Reds filled that spot with Louisville outfielder Kenny Kelly.
Kearns, who had recently begun working with hitting coach Chris Chambliss on backing off the plate a bit, said the organization lost confidence in him.
"I think that's something that's been going on for a while," he said. "Last year, that started early in the year. It's just been an ongoing thing. I probably put too much pressure on myself and tried too hard to prove people wrong instead of just relaxing and playing and doing what I do best."
But in a Reds clubhouse that includes four capable starting outfielders -- Kearns, Pena, Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn -- Kearns said he found it difficult not to press.
"We've got an outfield problem here," he said. "We've got guys who can play every day who are trying to establish themselves as everyday players. Even if I go down and come back, it's still going to be the same situation. It just comes to a point in everyone's career where you want to establish yourself and be in there every day. Call that selfish or anything you want, but that's just how it is."
The 25-year-old Kearns sounded like a man who wouldn't mind a change of scenery.
"It's going to be hard for this to be a positive if I stay here," he said. "Just the way some stuff has happened. If I come back [to the Reds], or if I get a chance to play somewhere else, I just want to play in the big leagues."
Wily Mo Pena / RF
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Just as he did throughout Spring Training, O'Brien said he's not interested in shopping Kearns or any of his other outfielders. He said it's important for Kearns to get regular at-bats in the Minors to get his swing back in shape.
"Right now our only focus is to get [Kearns] back to where he should be and needs to be," O'Brien said. "That's our one and only focus."
But pardon Kearns if he's not surprised to end up somewhere new.
"I've heard my name being thrown out there all year," he said. "So we'll see what happens."
LaRue on leave: Catcher Jason LaRue was placed on the bereavement list to attend the funeral of his grandfather, Carl LaRue, in Crockett, Texas. He is expected to return to the Reds on Tuesday, and he'll be activated Wednesday.
Javier Valentin will assume the starting catching duties in LaRue's absence. The team promoted Dane Sardinha, who was batting .223 with four homers and 15 RBIs with the Bats, from Louisville to fill in as the backup.
Long time coming: Kelly has waited since 2000 to make it back to the big leagues.
His last callup came when he was with the Devil Rays in September of that season. Since that time, Kelly, a second-round pick in the 1997 draft and a former University of Miami quarterback, became a Minor League free agent and was acquired by the Reds before the 2004 season.
He was simply stellar with the Bats this season, leading the team in average (.327), runs scored (41), hits (72), triples (4) and stolen bases (17).
"I worked my butt off to get to this point, and it's finally starting to pay off," Kelly said. "This is a reward for all the hard work and all the sweat and tears I've been through. I've had a lot of ups and downs, but I haven't reached my full capability. Hopefully, this gives me an opportunity to do that."
Sign here: The Reds have signed Cuban defector and left-handed pitcher Arian Cruz to a Minor League contract. The 27-year-old Cruz established residence in Costa Rica before being signed by the club. He's awaiting the necessary visa connections to pitch in the States.
Once that paperwork is complete, O'Brien said he expects Cruz to report to either Louisville or Double-A Chattanooga.
"We feel he's fairly advanced," O'Brien said. "He's a fairly polished pitcher."
In other signing news, the Reds have finished contract talks with several of their draft picks, but an official bulk announcement of those signings isn't expected until early this week.
Reds report: Pena and Ryan Freel remained out of the starting lineup Sunday. Both are day-to-day with knee injuries. ... Griffey's season-high 13-game hitting streak was snapped Saturday. ... Sean Casey has not struck out in his past 65 plate appearances, the longest current stretch in the Majors. ... Reds Hall of Famer Joe Nuxhall will rejoin Marty Brennaman in the booth for 700 WLW's broadcasts of Monday and Wednesday's games at Fenway Park.
On deck: The Reds will be heading to Boston for the first time since the 1975 World Series for a three-game Interleague set with the Red Sox. Left-hander Eric Milton (3-7, 7.46 ERA) will go up against right-hander Matt Clement (6-1, 3.79).
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.