NEW YORK -- Brandon Phillips doesn't just get to return to Cleveland on Friday. The second baseman gets to return to Jacobs Field with a successful and thriving career outlook, All-Star caliber credentials, and a key role on a contending club. In other words, everything Phillips was supposed to be doing for the Indians.
Only, he has done it all with the Reds. Phillips has kept his anticipation in check. If this weekend's Interleague series vs. the Indians was circled on his calendar, he showed no indications. "It's just another team. I'm not really worried about Cleveland," Phillips said before playing the Mets on Thursday. "I wish them the best and everything. I hope they're doing the same toward me and wishing me the best. I'm sorry everything went the way it did. I'm with the Cincinnati Reds and trying to make this my new home." It has turned out to be one of the more lopsided trades of the 2006 season. But Phillips' career was at a crossroads when the Reds acquired him from the Indians on April 7 for what would later be Class A Minor League pitcher Jeff Stevens. Back in 2003, Phillips was the Indians' Opening Day second baseman, but quickly flamed out. He struggled at the plate and earned a reputation as being difficult with coaches, who tried to fix his big swing and curb his thirst for home runs. He spent much of the past two years in the Minors. Cleveland gave up on Phillips at the end of Spring Training this season. He was designated for assignment before Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky engineered one of the best deals of his brief tenure. Phillips' career is in full bloom again -- the 25-year-old is batting .314 with seven homers, 43 RBIs and 14-for-14 in stolen base attempts. He's gotten plenty of key hits with his improved, shorter swing for contact -- including the game-winning two-run single in the ninth that helped Cincinnati beat the Mets on Wednesday night. "Whatever my performance was there, it was meant to be," said Phillips, who has repeatedly owned up to his mistakes in Cleveland since leaving. "Now I'm going there [Friday], and whatever I do there is meant to be, too. If I do good, I do good. If I do bad, oh well. I'm still a Cincinnati Red. As long as we win over there, I'm straight. I just want to sweep them." More trader's remorse could zing the Indians if Phillips continues to stay hot against them this weekend. Even more would be felt if he was named to the National League All-Star team, something that is feasible with his numbers. "I'm happy for Brandon that he's having a good year," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. Junior rests: Center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. was out of Thursday's lineup against the Mets. Part of the reason was Griffey's history against starter Pedro Martinez (1-for-14, six strikeouts). But mostly it was because this was a day game after a night game. Reds manager Jerry Narron let Griffey pick which game of this series he would take off. "I could have told you what day he was going to pick," Narron said. "It has nothing to do with who's pitching, I can tell you that. If Sandy Koufax was pitching last night and somebody else today, he would have taken the day game off." Narron then pondered the dream encounter -- Junior vs. Koufax? "That would have been a pretty good matchup," Narron said. Ryan Freel, who played third base the previous three games, moved to center field in place of Griffey, and Juan Castro started at third.
This weekend against Cleveland, Narron planned to use Griffey as the designated hitter in one or two games.Hit parade: On Wednesday, Freel became the first Reds player with three hits in three straight games since Sean Casey did it in August 2004. No Reds player has produced three hits in four straight games since Thomas Howard in August 1996. Freel struggled in April and early May, when he played a stretch of 22 of 26 games in center field when Griffey was on the disabled list. Narron has found that Freel, who entered with a .406 (28-for-69) average in his previous 20 games, is most productive when he plays less. "Freel is best when he's used about five times a week all over the field," Narron said. "That's where his value is. I know he wants to play 10 games a week." Coming up: The Reds return to Interleague action Friday with the first of three games against the Indians at Jacobs Field. Aaron Harang will make the start for Cincinnati against Cleveland's Jake Westbrook at 7:05 p.m. ET.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.