CINCINNATI -- Happy to be here. Happy to be anywhere. That was the positive vibe surrounding the Reds' newest acquisition, middle infielder Brandon Phillips, on his first day in the home clubhouse Sunday. He was traded from Cleveland on Friday for a player to be named later. Phillips spent a week and a half in limbo after the Indians designated him for assignment April 1.
"It was kind of frustrating, just being without a team. Now I'm here. I'm loving Cincinnati," Phillips said. "The clubhouse is nice. The food is nice. All the coaches and players, they seem real laid back and cool. I think I'm going to have fun." Phillips spent several moments in the morning meeting with manager Jerry Narron before taking batting practice with his new teammates. Although his tremendous defensive reputation precedes him, a role hasn't been defined. That seems reasonable considering Cincinnati already has three other second basemen in Ryan Freel, Tony Womack and Rich Aurilia, and an All-Star shortstop in Felipe Lopez. "I'm not worried about that," Phillips said. "Right now, I just want to get my feet wet. Whatever they have in store for me, when I do get the chance to play, I'm just going to give it my all." Narron did not have an immediate plan for working Phillips into the lineup. He did get him a pinch-hit at-bat for Dave Williams in the sixth inning of Sunday's 5-3 loss to the Pirates. Phillips roped a double to the gap in left-center field and later scored Cincinnati's first run. "We're hoping he can help us immediately," Narron said. "But if not, we think he can help us in the future. Right now, we'll see how games go. If there's a spot where we can get him in, we'll get him in as quick as we can." While waiting to be traded by the Indians, Phillips remained in Georgia. The 24-year-old worked out at his alma mater, Redan High School, doing some hitting and taking ground balls. He also apparently had some extra time to think about what went wrong in Cleveland. Once a top prospect, he was the Opening Day second baseman as a 22-year-old rookie in 2003 and hit his first walk-off homer to win a game the following month. Not long after that, he fell into a long skid and developed a penchant for resisting solid advice, and instead, trying too hard to hit for the seats. It wasn't long before he was back in the Minors, where he spent a majority of the past two seasons, as Ron Belliard and prospect Jhonny Peralta became middle infield fixtures. Maybe the big-league game went too well, too fast for Phillips. "I got caught in the atmosphere," he admitted. "I started doing good, and I ended up hitting a walk-off home run and said 'Dang, that felt good.' They were saying 'Rookie, did this, rookie, did that. Rookie of the Year,' The talk and the publicity, I got caught up in it. It really hurt me." Phillips began changing his hitting approach this spring with Cleveland, but was still the odd man out despite being out of options. "Right now, I'm just working on hitting the ball where it's pitched," Phillips said. "It worked for me in Spring Training. I hope I can just carry it through the season." Change of plans: Originally expected to be activated Tuesday in Chicago, catcher Jason LaRue will instead go to Sarasota and catch Paul Wilson in an extended Spring Training game. LaRue, who had arthroscopic knee surgery to repair torn cartilage March 27, was eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Monday. He spent the past three days catching in the bullpen while trying to reduce swelling in his knee. Deciding he wasn't 100 percent, the Reds wanted LaRue to catch a game in a warm climate first. "I think maybe the worst thing we could have done was put a timetable on it, saying he's going to be back on such-and-such date," Narron said. "All of us were in a hurry to see him activated and that might be part of it." No worries? While the Reds have been scoring a lot of runs, a struggling Reds bullpen has turned some would-be blowouts into nail-biters. The bullpen entered Sunday with a 9.20 ERA, while letting 12 of 14 inherited runners score. If Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky was concerned, he wasn't showing it. "We're giving up some runs late, but we're coming out on the high end of it. That's the bottom line," Krivsky said. "We're struggling a little bit late in the game. But there will come a time where the relievers are doing great, and they'll have to pick up the starters and the offense. It's such a long year. You go through cycles." Farm report: Outfielder Jay Bruce, the Reds' first-round draft pick last year, is off to a good start at Class A Dayton. Bruce was hitting .429 (6-for-14), including a 2-for-4 game with an RBI double in Saturday's 6-3 win over South Bend. Coming up: Following an off-day Monday, the Reds open a three-game series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field Tuesday. Bronson Arroyo is scheduled to make his second start for Cincinnati against Chicago's Glendon Rusch.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.