ATLANTA -- Reds manager Dusty Baker is looking for improvement out of the second spot in his order, and he believes that shortstop Zack Cozart is the man who can give it to him.
Cozart has struggled coming into Atlanta, hitting 1-for-11 on the current road trip and 3-for-31 in July, but Baker isn't ready to ground the third-year pro. Actually, he'd prefer that the shortstop ground himself.
"He has to stay out of the air, No. 1," said Baker, who talked to his 27-year-old shortstop prior to the game. "There's nothing up in the air but outs.
"He dug himself a pretty big hole to start the season, which makes it like no matter how good you do, you're still in a hole," Baker added, referring to Cozart's .208 April.
Baker also believes that the numbers might be a little deceiving in Cozart's case.
"He's hit some balls hard for nothing," Baker said. "Now, in my mind, hitting the ball hard is not struggling. A guy can struggle, but he's getting hits. He's getting all bloopers. One day he's going to fall out of that tree and break his neck. The next guy, you keep hitting that ball hard and don't get discouraged, you're going to come out of it. He's hit some balls right on the nose, especially to center field."
Cozart likely will stay in the two-hole for a while as Baker lets him hit his way out of his struggles.
"I already had him down. I had him down in the seventh-hole probably half the time," said Baker, who batted Cozart seventh in 17 games, netting a .150 result. "You have to learn some kind of way. Someday he's going to be an excellent second hitter. We're teaching guys how to hit at the big league level, how to hit. There's a big difference between swinging and hitting. So sometimes you make your adjustments. Sometimes you have to spot who's the best man for the job ... who's available."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less