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Meggie Zahneis

Versatile Negron happy to fill any role for Reds

Injury-depleted club making use of hard-nosed player's multiposition talent

Versatile Negron happy to fill any role for Reds play video for Versatile Negron happy to fill any role for Reds

Kris Negron is the Reds' do-it-all utility second baseman/shortstop/third baseman/outfielder guy.

That's a lot of slashes.

And while Cincinnati hasn't needed to make use of Negron at shortstop yet this season, manager Bryan Price has to be comforted knowing Negron can ease the pain of an injury-laden season for Reds position players -- Joey Votto hasn't seen game action since July 5, and Brandon Phillips went down just four days later -- in a variety of roles.

Some might call the possibility of being called on to play up to six positions a bit daunting.

Not Negron.

"In all honesty, I've been playing a lot of positions for a while now," Negron said. "For four or five years in Triple-A, I've been bouncing around from center to left, second, short, right, third. It all feels like home. If I'm asked to play right field, I feel comfortable enough to do it. If I'm asked to play short, the same thing.

"I did pitch one inning in Triple-A this year. It was a little scary. I got all three outs, didn't give up a run and got one strikeout. But it's a little too close to the plate for me. But if I'm asked to play there, I'll do it, too."

One thing's for sure: the 28-year-old has come as advertised.

After hitting .269 with three homers and 25 RBIs through 75 games with Triple-A Louisville this year, Negron got the call north to the Queen City on July 10, and he has hit .246 with another three dingers and nine RBIs in 21 games.

But things haven't always gone this smoothly for the New Jersey-born, California-raised Negron.

For one thing, Negron was drafted in 2006 by Boston, and he bounced around the Red Sox's farm system for three years before heading to Cincinnati in exchange for shortstop Alex Gonzalez and cash on Aug. 14, 2009.

It would be another three years before Negron saw big league action, and even then, he only appeared in four games before being shipped back to Louisville.

Five days after Negron's call to the Majors -- likely one of the happiest moments of his life -- came one of the most discouraging. He blew out his knee. That torn ACL and medial meniscus in his right knee ended his 2012 season and would require an offseason of rehab before he could make it back onto the field in 2013.

Negron is the first to admit it wasn't easy.

"It's tough," he said. "But that's just the way I was raised. I was in a military family, where we never give up. The odds are always going to be stacked against you. But no matter what, you just need to keep fighting, stay positive and work hard to get there.

"I think having that knee surgery kind of gave me a little bit more drive. Who knows when your career could end? I had to come back healthy in order to play. That kind of opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on my career, getting up on 28 now. Getting that little taste of what's going on up here [in the big leagues], that injury really propelled my mental state."

After all, it might have been easy to give up after six years of heart and hustle, but a positive state of mind allowed Negron to push away any thoughts of hanging up his hat.

"[Retirement] might've [been on my mind] a little bit. But as soon as it crossed my mind, I kind of washed it out," he said. "Because this is something I want to do until the jersey gets ripped off of my back. It's something I love, ever since I can remember. I just had to keep my nose down and attack the rehab process. I did that. They treated me real well ... and they got me ready for Spring Training. My knee feels well now, knock on wood."

That's not to say that worries about the knee disappeared forever after being given a clean bill of health.

"[After being hurt], I knew I had the chance to get back up here, but didn't know if I would get the opportunity again," Negron said. "And then last year I played -- I wasn't hurt, I was 100 percent healthy. I had a knee brace on and I think subconsciously I was worried about the knee a little bit."

But as he always had in the past, Negron bounced back, hitting a three-run dinger in the first at-bat of his first start. He'd spent all of spring in Arizona with the big league club and made the most of it, hitting .309 and honing his craft under the tutelage of fellow infielder Zack Cozart.

"We came up together, we're the same age," Negron said of Cozart. "He's always been behind me, always telling me to work hard, and always looking out for me. Even when I've been up here and playing up the middle with him, he still helps me a bunch. We talk all of the time, and he keeps me pointed in the right direction."

Cozart has nothing but praise for his teammate.

"He's done really well," Cozart said. "He's done what you want to do. When you get your opportunity, you want to take advantage of it. And I think he's done that. He's proven that he can handle the bat, he's got some pop and he's played well defensively at every position.

"I'm proud of him, because it's been kind of a long journey for him to get back here, and I think he's taken advantage of it like he should be. He should be up here for a long time, as good as he plays every position -- he plays short as well, handles the bat. It's cool to have him up here and playing well."

As it turned out, Spring Training was a turning point for Negron.

"Spring Training was a big leap for me," Negron said. "I was lucky enough to spend the entire Spring Training with the big league team. I got a lot of opportunities to showcase that I was healthy and could compete, whether it was defensively or offensively. That really springboarded a lot of what is happening now, even though I got sent down. My first month in Triple-A was a little rough, because I let it get to me a little bit. But I got my mind right from May on and just had to remind myself that I had to keep grinding."

Negron has shown himself to be a hard-nosed guy for whom that all-important mental aspect of the game comes easily.

"There's a lot of physical talent in this game, everyone is extremely gifted. But the mental aspect -- you never want to overlook that," he said. "It's a tough game, but you've got to be sharp mentally. You're going to have your ups and downs, but when your name is called, you have to be ready. The team is counting on you.

"Everybody's got that drive, that willpower within them to come out here and perform. And we all see the big picture, we all want to win, to go to the playoffs, to succeed. Just knowing that means so much more here in the big leagues, it gives [me] the drive every day to come out and compete."

Reds fans can rest assured that Negron's grit and hustle -- after he hit an eighth-inning dinger in Milwaukee, his trip around the bases clocked in at 16.12 seconds, according to Tater Trot Tracker, and evoked comparisons to former Red Adam Rosales -- isn't going anywhere, no matter what happens when Phillips returns from the disabled list next week.

"I'm just going to take it one day at a time, try to help the team when I can," Negron said. "I'm going to do whatever I'm called to do -- whether it's run, hit or defense, I want to help this team."

Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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