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Price finds opportunity to get Lutz into lineup

NEW YORK -- Cracking the Reds' starting lineup has been a challenge for first baseman/outfielder Donald Lutz. It's also been difficult for manager Bryan Price to find a way to write Lutz's name on the card.

With Cincinnati playing the Yankees in an American League park, Lutz was the designated hitter on Saturday. It was his first start in the big leagues since June 9. He was recalled from Triple-A Louisville on July 11.

"For me, it's a little bit more challenging being in this environment -- going into [Friday] a game and a half out of first and today 2 1/2 out, and ask the guys to come up from Triple-A and take on a significant role when we have players that are a bit more established here right now," Price said on Saturday. "[But] these kids have no value to us if they can't blend in here periodically and give us some productive at-bats. If I go too long without playing them, they lose any ability to compete in this environment."

Price has primarily started backup catcher Brayan Pena at first base since Joey Votto went on the disabled list. Third baseman Todd Frazier and right fielder Jay Bruce have also started games there. In the outfield, Chris Heisey has been getting more playing time.

"A lot of it is we have some guys here who spent some time on the bench as role players that are getting the opportunity to play and have been pretty productive," Price said. "Especially, we've seen Heisey and [Ramon] Santiago do some really nice things for us offensively and defensively."

Lutz, who was batting .227 in 32 games at Louisville following a promotion from Double-A Pensacola, was also in the big leagues from May 23-June 9 and made four starts at first base. Over his last 10 games at Louisville, he was starting to find a groove as he batted .297 (11-for-37) with two home runs and 12 RBIs.

In between chances to play, Lutz has done his best to stay ready. At Great American Ball Park, he often makes use of the pitching machine in the batting cage. "Obviously, there is nothing really better than getting at-bats," Lutz said. "You go in the cage. You have people throwing to you. You do your routine."

Lutz feels like he's become more comfortable with coming off the bench to pinch-hit.

"I feel like it's easier now the more and more you experience it," Lutz said. "I talk to the older guys on how to handle yourself and prepare for an at-bat. It's much easier than last year. Last year was the first time I was doing it. You take advantage of the chances when you get them."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
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