DENVER -- Maybe Reds third baseman Edwin Encarnacion is finally hitting 'em where they ain't. Maybe it's a little more than that, too. A .218 hitter before his demotion to Triple-A Louisville on May 10, Encarnacion has hit .333 (13-for-39) with two home runs and seven RBIs since his May 22 recall. During Thursday's 10-2 loss at Houston, the 24-year-old was a bright spot with a career-high four hits. "Before, I'd take a great at-bat and hit the ball hard with no luck," Encarnacion said Friday afternoon before Cincinnati played the Rockies. "Now, I feel great. I've got more luck than I've had in the past. Last night was a good night for a start. If I keep swinging like that, I'll help my team."
"I think even before he left, he was starting to swing the bat better," Reds manager Jerry Narron concurred. "He just didn't have anything to show for it. He hit some balls hard right at people." But there were plenty of times that Encarnacion didn't look good at the plate and his confidence seemed shot before his departure to Louisville. Lauded for being a young hitter that worked favorable counts last season, he began expanding his strike zone this season. "I thought all season, when Eddie was struggling, he got himself out more than the pitchers were getting him," Narron said. "He was swinging at pitches that were out of the zone, or borderline, when he was ahead in the count. It seemed like he worked hard to get the count in his favor and then when he gets it, he gives it away." Encarnacion said he's tried to be more selective since returning to the Majors. "That's what I have to do. If I keep doing that, I'm going to be fine," said Encarnacion, who entered the night batting .250 in 41 games overall with three homers and 21 RBIs. Also important to note is that Encarnacion has been spectacular defensively, and hasn't committed an error since returning. He made six errors before the demotion, and 25 last season, mostly throwing. Lately, he's made several spectacular plays to help the Reds -- even to his own surprise. "I've made plays, it's unbelievable," Encarnacion said with a smile. "You just have to keep working hard, like always. I'm working to be more consistent. I have to make the routine plays and the other plays are going to come." Run at own risk: Reds catcher David Ross came into the night leading Major League catchers by nailing 50 percent (11-of-22) of runners trying to steal against him. Ross was proud of his team-helping stat. "It's kind of like a home run. It makes you feel good, throwing guys out," Ross said. "That's what kind of got me to the big leagues, catching and throwing, and calling a game. It's one of my stronger points of my repertoire." He was quick to share the credit, however. "Pitchers have been doing a good job too," Ross said. "You have to credit to those guys for holding guys on and mixing up their looks at times." Valentin starts: Ross was given a rest Friday, while Javier Valentin got a chance to start behind the plate with rookie Bobby Livingston pitching. Valentin, the Reds' top pinch-hitter, hasn't gotten an at-bat in the last five games, which can be the perils of pinch-hitting when the team is playing well. "I try to save him," Narron said. "Javy needs some at-bats. It's a good day to get him in there." Valentin hadn't started a game since May 14 at San Diego. See you Tuesday? On Friday, Reds decision makers pondered whether to activate outfielder Josh Hamilton from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday when he becomes eligible to play. For now, the club is still leaning towards activating Hamilton for Tuesday's game at St. Louis to spare him a long flight from North Carolina to Denver to play in just one game. Hamilton, who went on the DL May 22 with gastroenteritis, had another hit on Thursday for Louisville and entered Friday batting .364 (4-for-11) with three homers. No communication yet: The Reds have had no luck, yet, reaching injured outfielder Ryan Freel on the phone since his scary collision with Norris Hopper on Monday in Cincinnati. Freel was hospitalized overnight with head and neck contusions and is due for a follow-up exam on Tuesday. However, he's reported to still be feeling the effects of the incident. Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said he's spoken to Freel's wife, Christie, who said Freel has spent much of his time sleeping. Strong Coffey: Since being optioned to Louisville on May 24, reliever Todd Coffey has thrown 3 2/3 scoreless innings in four games. He allowed two hits over one inning on Thursday vs. Charlotte. Coffey, who struggled with his location this year in the Majors, has hit one batter, walked one and struck out five. By rule, players sent down can't return for at least 10 days unless there's an injury. Should the Reds want to recall Coffey, the earliest the right-hander could come back is Tuesday because Monday is an off-day. Cormier done: Veteran left-handed reliever Rheal Cormier, who was released by the Reds on May 9, announced his retirement. Cormier, 40, was pitching for the Triple-A Richmond Braves. In case you were wondering, the Reds are still on the hook for all of Cormier's $2.25 million 2007 salary. Coming up: Kyle Lohse (2-6, 4.59) will start Saturday's 8:05 p.m. ET game for the Reds against Rockies lefty Jeff Francis (4-4, 3.93).
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.