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Heisey's health may be key to expanded role

Reds outfielder once again aiming for regular duty during 2014 season

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The start of the 2013 season seemed poised for Reds outfielder Chris Heisey to answer an often-asked question: what would he do with regular playing time?

Unfortunately for Heisey, he didn't do very much. Entering 2014 and again slated to be the fourth outfielder for the club, both he and the Reds are optimistic that it's not the final answer.

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"You never want to sell yourself short," Heisey said. "I've always said, I'd like to get a shot to prove I could do it. I had a little bit of one last year when Ryan [Ludwick] went down and I didn't play very well for three weeks. Then, I got hurt myself. You don't know when your opportunities are going to come."

Ludwick, the starting left fielder, went down on Opening Day last season with a separated right shoulder and torn labrum that required surgery and four months on the disabled list.

Heisey batted.173 with two home runs and five RBIs in his first 23 games, which included 17 starts.

"It was early in the year. I don't know if I put pressure on myself, but I just couldn't get it going," Heisey said. "There was no rhyme or reason. Most of that time, I remember I lined out a bunch of times in that stretch. I could have easily been hitting .240 or .250 with that little amount of at-bats. I was disappointed I didn't play better."

On April 29, a strained right hamstring put Heisey on the DL, too. One inning into his rehab assignment at Double-A Pensacola, he re-aggravated the injury. He wasn't activated until June 25.

"I learned a lot from my hamstring injury. You can't come back too early," Heisey said. "I felt like I needed to get back because I was getting more playing time and trying to prove myself. I went on the rehab assignment and I tore my hamstring [partially], and missed another month and a half. I definitely worked on my patience last summer. Sometimes we feel like we control the situation, but we're not in control as much as we think of our bodies. It was an unfortunate hamstring injury and that window kind of closed on me last year to get that extra playing time."

In 87 games overall last season, Heisey batted .237 with nine homers, 23 RBIs and a .279 on-base percentage. He played in 120 games in both 2011 and 2012, and hit a career-high 18 homers with 50 RBIs in '11. His ability to turn on a fastball has benefited in pinch-hitting. He's batting .287 with a .352 OBP as a pinch-hitter for his career.

Heisey was first called up in 2010, the year manager Bryan Price first became the Reds' pitching coach, and impressed with his skills on both sides of the game. That season, Heisey slugged four pinch-hit home runs, tied for most in the Majors.

"He's not just a tools guy. He brings good energy to the ballclub," Price said. "He's got good instincts. I think he's an above average defensive outfielder, especially on the corners where he plays primarily. ... You think about the full package and to me, that sounds like a guy who can be a regular outfielder. But it's hard to find your niche sometimes when you're a bench player."

Price believes that Heisey is poised to "turn the corner" in 2014. Of course, that also requires both opportunity and taking advantage of it when one presents itself.

"I would hate for him to commit to the idea that he's a fourth outfielder in the big leagues," Price said. "We talked enthusiastically about what he is capable of attaining in the future. We'd certainly like him to have a big year for us and make it hard to keep him out of the lineup."

This spring in five games, Heisey is batting .286 (4-for-14) with one homer and two RBIs. He started in center field vs. the Royals on Tuesday and just missed another homer to lead off the game. The ball hit the top of the fence in left-center field for a double. In the third inning, he made a nice diving catch on Danny Valencia's tailing line drive.

Heisey, 29, says his hamstring is fully healed and he spent the offseason working on his flexibility with the hopes it will prevent a similar injury this season. It was also a special time for personal reasons. Five weeks ago, he and his wife, Lisa, welcomed their first son, Caden, who tipped the scales at about 10 1/2 pounds.

"It's awesome. It's one added thing to be happy about going home from the ballpark -- win or lose, bad game or good game," Heisey said. "I already had my wife, but now I have her and a little precious little boy to go home to and take my mind off of baseball for a little bit. The season can be so long and grueling at times with all of the failure and day-to-day grind."

During the regular season, Heisey wouldn't mind arriving home to his family tired from having played so much. But he knows he'll have to wait his turn and hope he's ready to provide a better answer for when it's time to play more regularly.

"No matter what role you're doing, you have to play as well as you can and open some eyes to the fact that you can," Heisey said. "There have been a lot of guys that have been in my role for the early part of their career and got that chance and ended up being good, productive everyday players in the Major Leagues. I'm hoping that could be me."

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

Cincinnati Reds, Chris Heisey