Encarnacion endures growing pains

Encarnacion endures growing pains

HOUSTON -- Edwin Encarnacion's recent slump is indicative of how his 2008 season has been.

Streaky.

Since missing five games with a mild sprain of his left wrist, Encarnacion is 1-for-14 of his last four games.

"His wrist is OK, but his timing is off," Reds manager Dusty Baker said on Thursday.

Encarnacion, batting .251 in 143 games after he was 0-for-4 in Thursday's 8-6 loss, will have his lowest batting average since his 2005 rookie season, when he batted .232. And while he has a career-high 25 home runs, he has only 65 RBIs.

The owner of a .317 average with runners in scoring position the previous three seasons, Encarnacion came into Thursday batting .233 in those situations.

"The last two years, I'm not hitting how I'm supposed to hit," Encarnacion said. "I still had a good year. I know I can have a better year than this one. I can get more RBIs. I'm supposed to have more RBIs."

In 2007, Encarnacion got off to such a rough start that he was demoted to Triple-A Louisville for two weeks. But he rebounded well and wound up leading the team with a .289 average and .360 on-base percentage.

This season, he has only five homers and 22 RBIs over August and September.

"Last year, I had a great finish," Encarnacion said. "This year, I didn't have that finish like I had last year."

Encarnacion is headed into his first year of eligibility for arbitration, and despite his four seasons in the Majors, is still only 25. He plans to play a month of winter ball in the Dominican Republic near the end of that league's season.

"It's about that time in his career where everybody has a book on you," Baker said. "That's the toughest time I think for a lot of guys -- the fourth or fifth year. Before, one team might think you're a high-ball hitter, and another thinks you're a low-ball hitter, inside or outside. Around this time, you're not fooling anybody, and they have a good idea. This is when you make an adjustment, and you skyrocket again. There's a lot in there. It just hasn't come out yet."

Defensively, Encarnacion's 23 errors are just two shy of his career high of 25, set in 2006. Although he's been better lately, the total is way up from the 16 errors he had last season.

There have been suggestions that Encarnacion could be switched to first base, which would move Joey Votto to left field.

"I think Edwin would be a good first baseman," Baker said. "It's just that Joey Votto is good, approaching excellent if he continues to improve the way he's improving. A lot of times, instead of moving two people out of position, I think it's better to just move one. We'll have to see who's available, who we want to get and this and that."

Pitching matchup
CIN: RHP Bronson Arroyo (15-11, 4.66 ERA)
Arroyo's solid run of starts came to an end on Sunday during an 8-1 loss to the Brewers. He gave up six runs (five earned) and six hits over six innings with three walks and eight strikeouts. Over his last 15 starts, Arroyo is 11-4 with a 3.14 ERA. In four starts vs. St. Louis, he is 2-1 with a 3.55 ERA with six walks and 19 strikeouts.

STL: RHP Braden Looper (12-14, 4.13 ERA)
It's Looper's last chance at a 13th win, a number he deserved to reach several starts ago. He has 21 strikeouts and three walks over his last four starts -- and four losses. Sometimes it's the defense, sometimes the offense, sometimes the bullpen, and sometimes a combination. But things just haven't broken right behind Looper lately.

Short hops
Infielder Andy Phillips and his wife, Bethany, welcomed a baby girl on Wednesday named Isaiah Jewel. Phillips could return to the team during the final series. ... For the first time in franchise history, the Reds have four pitchers with at least 150 strikeouts in the same season with Edinson Volquez (206), Arroyo (158), Johnny Cueto (157) and Aaron Harang (151). ... When Adam Pettyjohn starts on Sunday, he will be the first lefty to start for the Reds this season, ending a 180-game streak of right-handed starters. Phil Dumatrait was the last lefty to start for the Reds on Sept. 9, 2007. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it will be the first time since at least 1900 that the Reds went an entire season with only one start by a left-hander. The 2006 Diamondbacks were the last team to finish a Major League season with fewer than two starts by a left-handed pitcher.

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Up next
• Saturday: Reds (Aaron Harang, 6-16, 4.72) at Cardinals (Todd Wellemeyer, 12-9, 3.69), 7:15 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Reds (Adam Pettyjohn, 0-0, 4.50) at Cardinals (Kyle Lohse, 15-6, 3.78), 2:15 p.m. ET

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.