Nix, Balentien battling for one spot

Nix, Balentien battling for one spot

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Laynce Nix punctuated his bid for the final spot in the Cincinnati outfield with a long home run, his third of the spring, over the right-field fence Thursday.

Of course, it is nothing the Reds have not seen before.

Nix hit .239 with 15 homers and 46 RBIs, both career-high power numbers, in his first season with the Reds last year, and he believes that sort of a production at the Major League level should be worth some consideration as he competes with Wladimir Balentien for the fifth outfield spot.

"I'm ready to rock," said Nix, 29.

"I feel pretty confident that I'm going to be in the big leagues doing some damage this year. I don't try to take too much into account beside that. As long as that is the case, I feel pretty good about what is going to happen.

"I'm in the years of my career where I should be ready to really make some adjustments and be the best that I am. I'm just trying to show that, and I believe I will this year."

Nix is 7-for-27 with two doubles, three homers and eight RBIs this spring after a 10-6 loss to Colorado on Thursday, showing no residual effects from a cervical disk injury that interrupted his career-best season late last year and seemed to bother him when he returned in September.

Balentien, acquired in a trade with Seattle after being designated for assignment last July 30, is 10-for-33 with a homer and two RBIs. He singled in a three-run ninth inning on Thursday.

"So far, so good. Everything is going the right way, the way I want it to go. I'm so happy with the spring I am having right now," Balentien said.

"It's about opportunity, and I'm getting a lot of opportunity here to show what I can do. I can't ask for more."

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Reds manager Dusty Baker said he will weigh previous Major League production "quite a bit" when evaluating the spot, but he will include other elements.

"I always factor in the last season, as well as how they are doing now. You have to," Baker said.

"You also have to factor in is a guy a slow starter, a fast starter, a warm-weather player, a cold-weather player. You put some stock in Spring Training, but not all of the stock. If you did that, you would have cut Eddie Murray and Ryne Sandberg and Steve Garvey. They would have never made the team.

"I remember one spring Steve Garvey hit .110, and on Opening Day he had four hits."

Balentien, 25, was given every opportunity to see regular time in Seattle last season, even with Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez as starters, but lost playing time to Endy Chavez before eventually moving on.

He hit .213 with four homers in 56 games with the Mariners but had a resurgence with the Reds, improving his average to .264 with three homers in 40 games.

"In Seattle, they gave me the opportunity to get in the big leagues. I'm happy with that. That's part of the business. You don't get an opportunity there, you go somewhere else. That's part of baseball," he said.

Balentien has shown power his whole Minor League career, and the Reds' first spring in Arizona brings back good memories. He set an Arizona League (Rookie) record with 16 homers in 2003, at age 18. He has 122 Minor League homers in six seasons.

"I'd love to have the opportunity to play the whole season [at Great American Ball Park,] and try to have the season I have always wanted in the big leagues," Balentien said.

"I've made a lot of adjustments. I'm still making adjustments. I'm trying to cut down my strikeouts and use the whole field. To have success in the Major Leagues, you have to use the whole field, so I'm still working on that. In the Major Leagues, it's about adjustments every day. I'm still doing it.

Nix hit .249 with an .802 OPS against right-handed pitchers last season, and could provide another left-handed bat on a team that appears to have only one certain left-handed hitter in the starting lineup, right fielder Jay Bruce. Outfielder Chris Dickerson also hits from the left side.

"I feel like I'm a piece of the puzzle. I came off the bench some last year and I had a little success," Nix said.

"If that is an added dimension that I can be, then I'm happy to do that. And I think 'Bake' also knows that I can play every day. I think that adds to the value, and I just want to contribute to this team however I can. I think we have a good mix in this clubhouse this year. "[Competition] is there. I'm not denying the inevitable. But it's not so much competition within the team as I want to win. Everything is good if we win. Dusty knows how to play his guys, and how to make his team the best it is going to be."

"Balentien is getting better, and Nix has played well," Baker suggested. "We have some tough choices to make, very tough choices to make."

Jack Magruder is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.