CHICAGO -- Monday's affirmation that Alex Gonzalez won't be back any time soon from a fractured knee only allows Jeff Keppinger to get even more comfortable at the shortstop position. "I'm not out of place," Keppinger said. "I know where I need to be on certain plays. It's all about catching the ball and throwing the ball." Keppinger, normally a utility infielder, is batting .327 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 13 games. He had yet to commit an error as he made his 12th start at shortstop this season vs. the Cubs. The 27-year-old was 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored.
"He's played great there," manager Dusty Baker said. "This guy is one of the first ones here to the park. He studies. He's almost the first one on the bench everyday before the game starts. He wants to take advantage of the situation. Half the time, it's hard for me to beat him to the bench. He's sitting there, watching the pitcher warm up and thinking and getting his mind ready for a ballgame. That's very refreshing." An MRI exam showed that Gonzalez's left knee still had a compression fracture. He's already been out since near the beginning of Spring Training and isn't permitted to even resume running for another 2-4 weeks. That means he's still a long way from coming off of the disabled list. Keppinger had rarely played shortstop professionally -- though he played in high school and college -- until last season, when Gonzalez was out for several extended periods. Although he lacks Gonzalez's reputation for glove and range, no one can say Keppinger lacks results or doesn't make plays. In his 43 starts at shortstop last season, he committed just two errors. "If you're playing it every day, like I am mostly, you'll feel more comfortable at whatever position you're playing," Keppinger said. "If it's a two-game stint and then switch to another one, then it's hard to get comfortable at any of them. I played there last year and most of Spring Training and now." Helping the Reds miss Gonzalez's presence less is that Keppinger has been one of the Reds' hottest hitters and frequently reaches base. His on-base percentage entering the night was .386. "Right now, he's the guy you want up there with the game on the line,' Baker said. "He's swinging the best."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.