Heisey ready to battle for a spot on Reds' bench

Heisey ready to battle for a spot on Reds' bench

Heisey ready to battle for a spot on Reds' bench
PEORIA, Ariz. -- There was one void in Chris Heisey's rookie season for the Reds last year that wasn't noticeable to fans, but extremely obvious to the outfielder.

Good games or bad, there wasn't a way for Heisey to share the moments with his father, Craig. In October of 2007, after Heisey's second pro season, Craig Heisey died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"Every time I had a good game, I wanted to call and tell him about it, because that's what I would do in college and even my first couple of years of pro ball," Heisey said. "He would have had a blast, I know it. He would've been at a bunch of games, and definitely would've been proud to see his son in the Major Leagues. It would have been really special."

Heisey, 26, was with the Reds last summer when Major League Baseball held "4 ALS" day to honor Gehrig and bring awareness to the fight against the deadly illness. He caught a ceremonial first pitch before the game.

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"That was emotional for me," Heisey said. "I'm lucky I had my sunglasses on, or it might not have been so good if I didn't."

That may have been one of the few times emotions or butterflies affected Heisey after he was promoted to the big leagues for the first time on April 30. The call came when Chris Dickerson went on the disabled list, and Heisey did so well as a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter, he never went back to the Minors.

In 97 games, Heisey batted .254 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs.

Despite being a rookie, Heisey especially thrived in the challenging role of pinch-hitter. His four pinch-hit homers tied him with burly veteran Matt Stairs for the Major League lead and was one shy of Jerry Lynch's Reds club record.

That performance has given the Reds something extra to think about as Heisey attempts to make the team again as a role player. He has an excellent chance.

"It was real hard. We figured he could probably handle it," Reds manager Dusty Baker said on Friday. "No. 1, he can hit that fastball -- and he played very good defense, ran the bases well and threw well. Who knows what's in the future for him? The better you do this job, the better chance you'll get a look sometime later. We will take into consideration what he did last year, the fact that he's right handed. We don't have much right-handed for the bench, yet. He doesn't take anything for granted. He plays all three outfield positions."

After last season's Reds elimination from the postseason by the Phillies, Heisey returned home to Mechanicsburg, Pa., and went back to work. Because he gained some weight as a result of not playing every day in the Majors, he focused on eating better and doing cardio work.

"I feel as athletic as I've felt for a couple of years," Heisey said. "My wife and I went to the gym every day, got on the ellipticals and watched 'The Price is Right' together."

Unfortunately, knowing how to play Plinko or recall the retail price of a dishwasher isn't going to help Heisey make the team.

"We need to give him a theory on how to hit left-handers," Baker said. "He hit right-handers better than lefties, much better."

Heisey batted .328 against right-handed pitching, but only .169 vs. lefties. Overall this spring, he is 1-for-10 through five games after striking out twice vs. Seattle on Friday.

The battle for the extra outfield spots has the makings of being a tight one. The Reds brought in veteran outfielders Fred Lewis and Jeremy Hermida during the offseason. Lewis got a big league contract, while Hermida's was a non-guaranteed Minor League deal.

Now that Heisey has at least been through a big league camp and season, it has him better prepared.

"It's a totally different feel for me this year as opposed to last year," Heisey said. "Last year, I felt like I had a very, very outside chance of making the team out of camp. ... I didn't play very well and I didn't expect to make the team. I knew towards the end of camp that it would be time for me to head back to Triple-A.

"This year, I can definitely be a little more relaxed. I still have to make the team and I still can't coast through. It is a new season. Last year, I helped the team off the bench. But it's a new year, and we have to win this year. No guarantees. I need to prove I can be the same guy this year and help the team off the bench, and hopefully be that pinch-hitter again."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.