SAN FRANCISCO -- Being one of baseball's most versatile players doesn't come easy. "I've worked extremely hard at it, still work hard at it," the Cincinnati Reds' Jerry Hairston Jr. said Sunday. "I pride myself on that, being able to play a lot of positions." Since being recalled a week ago from Triple-A Louisville, Hairston has played five positions: second base, shortstop, left field, center field and right field, where he started Sunday's game against the Giants in San Francisco.
Hairston said he built his playing versatility gradually over the course of an eight-year big league career. He became the Baltimore Orioles' everyday second baseman during his first full season in the Majors in 2001. But a series of injuries in subsequent seasons led him to try to expand his playing opportunities by continuing to play shortstop and learning the outfield positions. "I started to play some center, some right, and all the positions," Hairston said. "Being able to play a lot of positions definitely can't hurt." He stays on top of his multifaceted game by practicing a couple of positions per day. "I'll take a lot of ground balls at short, and maybe take some in left or right," he said. "The next day, maybe take some at second, then some at center. You just try not to overwhelm yourself. But I don't mind playing all over. Any time you're in the lineup, it's a great thing." Reds manager Dusty Baker hasn't hesitated to put Hairston's versatility to work. "It's very valuable, plus he knows how to stay ready," Baker said. That has been evident at the plate as well as on the field. Heading into Sunday's game, Hairston was batting .389 and matched his career high with four hits in his first start of the season last Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hairston, who spent significant portions of 2006 and 2007 on the disabled list while with the Cubs and Rangers, said his resurgent play is due in no small part to his return to health. "I had back issues the last couple of years, and now for the first time in a while, I'm completely healthy," said Hairston. He was signed to a Minor League contract by the Reds in early March and began the season in Louisville, where he batted .421 in 14 games prior to his recall. "I was excited for the opportunity just to play every day again, to really kind of test out my back. It felt great, and I did pretty well," Hairston said. And he still is.
Dennis Georgatos is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.