Hal McCoy
Hal McCoy

Hal McCoy is a former beat writer for the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio), covering the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. He was honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002 as the winner of the J. G. Taylor Spink Award, which is awarded annually "for meritorious contributions to baseball writing." He has won 43 Ohio and national writing awards and was the first non-Cincinnati newsperson elected to the Cincinnati Journalists Hall of Fame. McCoy has been the Cincinnati BBWAA Chapter Chair 22 times and was the BBWAA national president in 1997. He is the third writer from the Dayton Daily News to win the J. G. Taylor Spink Award, joining Si Burick (1982) and Ritter Collett (1991). Residing in Clayton, Ohio, McCoy is an honors graduate in journalism from Kent State University.

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His sudden resurgence at the plate has opened some eyes as well as the familiar debates over Drew Stubbs and the endless “what ifs”.

When Drew Stubbs walks to home plate in Great American Ball Park, he should wear a lightning rod on top of his Cincinnati Reds batting helmet.

Nobody with the Reds draws more negative volts than Stubbs, a 27-year old center fielder who runs as if his feet are roller boards.

Fans want to see that speed utilized and if speed kills they want Stubbs to execute a few opposing teams by wreaking mayhem on the base paths.

And when he is on the base paths, he does just that. When he hits ground balls, infielders react as if they’ve had too much coffee and the caffeine has kicked in, making them jittery.

It happened twice in Chicago when Stubbs hit routine slow rollers to the infield. The infielder, knowing he had a nanosecond to throw out Stubbs, juggled the ball just enough that it was mission impossible to throw out Stubbs.

That’s what fans want to see — put the ball on the ground and flee toward first base like a greyhound breaking out of the starting box.

What they don’t like to see is the propensity for Stubbs to strike out, a league-leading 205 times last year in 604 at-bats with only 63 walks. In 2010 he struck out 168 times in 514 at-bats with only 55 walks.

And it started that way again in 2012 when Stubbs whiffed 16 times in his first 45 at-bats.

Manager Dusty Baker loves batting Stubbs in the leadoff spot, where his speed can best be put to positive use.  But the strikeouts negated that advantage and Baker has batted Stubbs  sixth, seventh and eighth at different times the last two seasons.

Second? No, not second. But out of necessity, an injury to second baseman and leadoff hitter Brandon Phillips, Baker did another juggling and balancing act.

He moved his No. 2 hitter, Zack Cozart, into the leadoff spot and dropped Stubbs into the two-hole.

Sha-zam. It worked. In fact, it worked so well that when Phillips came back Baker put him into the clean-up spot and left Stubbs in the No. 2 spot.

Stubbs promptly went 17 straight at-bats without a strikeout and had two three-hit games in a row. And in a series opener this week against San Francisco he popped two more hits and dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt.

Asked if it is tough to bounce around the batting order like a lottery ping pong ball, Stubbs said, “You have different responsibilities in the different spots in the lineup. If you know what you’re supposed to do going into the game, buy into it and go with it, you’re OK. At the top of the order, you have more opportunities to bat and do some stuff.”

Batting ahead of No. 3 hitter Joey Votto will do that for you — get you more strikes, better pitches to hit.

After moving to second in the order, Stubbs hit safely in eight of nine games, had those two three-hit games back-to-back and put together a six-game hitting streak. During that nine-game span he hit .371 (13-35) with two double, a home run and two stolen bases.

There were times over the course of the last two seasons when Stubbs approached the batter’s box like a condemned man walking The Green Mile.

That isn’t the case now. He can’t wait to dig in.

“I’m feeling better at the plate and it is kind of exciting,” he said. “Like anything else, when things are going good you can’t wait to get up the next time.  I’m kind of finding my rhythm back, feeling comfortable in the box. Hopefully, I can continue to push forward, score some runs, help this team win.”

And Stubbs is definitely appreciative of the spectre of Joey Votto standing in the batter’s box while Stubbs is hitting.

“I’m not seeing more fastballs and, in fact, the Cubs threw me a lot more sliders,” said Stubbs. “Obviously, pitchers don’t want to walk me in front of Votto, but that hasn’t translated into more fastballs. Just more balls in the hitting zone.

“I’m having success right now because I’m staying on the ball better than I have for a long, long time and that’s why I’ve had some success,” he said. And the proof is in the fact a lot of his hits are plopping into the right field grass, the opposite field.

The Reds struggled and squirmed on the first portion of the just-completed trip, losing five of the first six. But they righted themselves in time to win three of the last four and came home 4-6 — under .500, but in third place behind St. Louis and only 3 ½ games out of the first place in the National League Central.

“It was a tough road trip with the arms Washington threw at us (1-and-3) and the Cardinals (1-and-2) being who they are,” said Stubbs. “We weren’t playing our best and those two teams played some good baseball. We were able to salvage two of three in Chicago before we came home.”

Hal McCoy’s Reds’ spring training reports are proudly sponsored by the Buckeye Insurance Group…insuring the Heartland for over 130 years!

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