Looking for additional run production -- with shortstop Paul Janish struggling offensively and Cozart enjoying success at Triple-A Louisville -- the Reds deemed the young shortstop ready for prime time, optioning Janish to Triple-A and promoting Cozart.
Cozart showed his considerable worth Thursday night. In the third inning, with two outs and runners on first and third, he ranged far into the hole to make a truly difficult play on a Corey Hart grounder, which saved a run.
Cozart handled all manner of chances in this game, and when it was suggested to Reds manager Dusty Baker that Cozart had "held his own" defensively, Baker responded: "He did better than that."
In the fourth inning, after singling sharply to left for his first Major League hit, Cozart scored from first on a single to right-center by Ramon Hernandez. With two outs and the pitcher up next, a chance had to be taken, and Cozart's baserunning ability forced the Brewers to make a play. When the relay to the plate was off line, Cozart's headfirst slide beat the tag.
On the other side of the ledger, Cozart grounded into a double play in the sixth. Baker pinch-hit for him with Chris Heisey in the eighth with a runner on second and two outs. What was impressive after the game was Cozart's response to the question of what would stay with him from this night.
"What's going to stick out to me is hitting into that double play," Cozart said. "That's what I'm thinking about right now." That is a terrific answer, indicating the attitude of a player who will be more concerned with self-improvement than blowing his own horn. For the night, this was a debut that illustrated why Cozart was considered to be a player who could make a difference.
The Reds also sent struggling starting pitcher Edinson Volquez to Triple-A. Reliever Carlos Fisher was brought up as a fresh arm after the Reds played 13 innings Wednesday night against St. Louis. Cincinnati will still have to bring up a starter to fill the spot of Volquez in the rotation. That may very well be Dontrelle Willis. But at the moment, let the focus stay on the shortstop.
There had been considerable speculation about the Reds making this move, as both Janish and Edgar Renteria had not generated much offense. The Reds gave Janish the starting job this year. He was regarded as a very good defensive shortstop, and he had hit adequately in a part-time role last season. Baker said that this season, growing speculation about Janish losing his starting job had placed additional pressure on the shortstop.
"Paul Janish was putting a lot of pressure on himself, and his confidence was waning some," Baker said. "He needs to go down there and, more than anything, get his confidence together. He's definitely a quality shortstop, definitely a proven shortstop, one of the best there is, I think. It's just a matter of him getting his stroke together and his confidence together.
"Everybody has been pushing, pushing, pushing. We were still trying to get what we could out of Paul Janish. It wasn't fair to him, pushing for somebody else to take his job and he just got the job. Under different circumstances, had our offense been clicking completely, this might be a moot point. Even though we're among the league leaders in runs scored, we still have the potential to have a whole lot more offense here. And you know, Paul was one of the best-liked guys on this team."
Now, the Reds turn to Cozart, who was always regarded as a fine defensive shortstop, and this year at Louisville, made strides offensively, batting .310 with a .357 on-base percentage and .467 slugging percentage. The Reds will try to maximize his potential while making the pressure on him seem manageable.
"We like Cozart," Baker says. "He brings some speed, some power. In Spring Training we liked what we saw of him, big-time. That wasn't the issue. It was just a matter of him getting some more games under his belt. Shortstop in the big leagues is a very important position where you get most of the action. Hopefully, he's going to give us a boost. Cozart is going to get most of the playing time, [but] Renteria is still going to play. We're going to bring Cozart along, not slowly, but at a medium pace. He's got to learn the league, learn our pitching staff. That's a lot to learn. And a lot to do."
This is a major move, a contending club handing the shortstop job to a 25-year-old rookie in midseason. On the other hand, it says something very positive about the Reds organization that a player of Zack Cozart's talent was available to fill this crucial need.