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After full season, Cozart ready for more responsibility

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A shortstop is supposed to be the defensive field general, but as a rookie for the Reds last season, Zack Cozart played in this scenario:

To Cozart's right was eight-time Gold Glove winner Scott Rolen at third base. On the left side of the infield was three-time Gold Glove winner Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto with one Gold Glove at first base.

"I'm not going to be the one in the infield who is loud and making all the decisions even though that's what you want out of your shortstop," Cozart said.

Before Spring Training got into full swing, Reds manager Dusty Baker let Cozart know he should show more energy and become free about being vocal in the infield. Cozart, 27, plans on taking that instruction and running with it.

"This year, I have a year under my belt and the trust of these guys. I can take more of a leadership role," Cozart said.

That's just one of a few changes Cozart will be experiencing during the upcoming season. Life will be a little different offensively, too.

Used most often at either the leadoff or No. 2 spots, Cozart is going to bat seventh this season since trade acquisition Shin-Soo Choo will bat first and Phillips will take the two-hole.

"Now the tough part will be how he adjusts to the seven-hole," Baker said. "He'll probably see more breaking balls, less fastballs. Hitting in front of Joey, there were probably times you don't want to throw a fastball, but they had to. Your seventh hitter is the foundation-underneath guy."

In 138 games last season, Cozart batted .246 with 15 home runs, 33 doubles, 35 RBIs and a .288 on-base percentage.

The seventh spot is not devoid of responsibility. It's a place that can mean more run-producing chances to drive in hitters like Ryan Ludwick, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier. It's a spot that can keep rallies going and possibly help turn over the lineup through the pitcher's ninth spot.

"I will relish the moments when people are on base and getting big hits," Cozart said. "[Turning over the lineup] is going to come with time. That's why [Ryan] Hanigan is so good in the eighth spot. It seems like every time he's up, he gets a hit or works a walk to get the pitcher up. Even if the pitcher gets out, we'll have the leadoff hitter up the next inning. Guys in the bottom of the order, they are in as important positions as the top of the order."

Cozart, who has been instructed to improve his bunting technique, will also be trying to build on last year by smoothing some of the rough edges at the plate. That will include seeking consistency. Last season, he was prone to extended hitting funks that included an 0-for-19 skid, plus 0-for-13 and an 0-for-12.

"I want to make those bad moments go quicker and get out of the slumps quicker," Cozart said. "I want to hit better with runners on base. I thought I had a decent year last year. I want to improve."

At this same time, defense will be Cozart's bread-and-butter. A finalist for a Gold Glove, he finished second among National League shortstops with a .975 fielding percentage while making 14 errors.

"He's steady Eddie and he's going to get better," Baker said.

Last week, Cozart made nice diving stops to his left on back-to-back days. He'll never let defense take a back seat to hitting.

"That's me. If I'm struggling at the plate, I can always play defense," Cozart said. "That's what I fall back on. That's what I pride my game on."

And now he can be more vocal and take charge like a field general should.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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