By HAL McCOY
The warm and fuzzy story so far this season involves shortstop Zack Cozart and, as they say, “It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”
When the Reds took the field Sunday to face the St. Louis Cardinals, Cozart took a .480 batting average with him.
Everybody knows Cozart isn’t going to hit .480 or .400 and probably not even .300. But if he can hit .280 to go along with his street sweeper defense he will be a major plus.
COZART MISSED THE last half of last season after destroying his knee running to first base and it was surgically repaired in about a dozen different places.
To get back to where he is took a ton of dedication to hard work, a ton of discipline to do it right.
And now he is back and playing as if Derek Jeter’s body parts were transplanted into Cozart’s frame.
HIS .480 AVERAGE is amazing enough, but even more noteworthy is that Cozart took 44 swings this year before he swung and missed a pitch. Every time he swung he either put the ball in play for fouled it off.
He finally swung and missed a pitch Saturday against the Cardindals, but on the next pitch to lined a double to right center.
Did he know about the incredible swing-and-miss statistic? “I never thought much about it, but Jay Bruce talked a little bit about it. I guess that’s good but I don’t know what it means.”
That’s typical Cozart — low key, unpretentious and even a little self-deprecating at times. He is the ultimate blue collar guy in that it is all hard work, all team player, nothing about himself.
IT IS PROBABLY why he might be the most underrated shortstop in the game. That doesn’t mean he is unappreciated by his manager, Bryan Price, and his teammates.
“I’m not surprised by what Zack is doing,” Price said earlier this season. “He is enjoying being back on the field and I know how much he missed it. He missed being on the field and he missed being part of this team. You can tell how happy he is to be back and I couldn’t be happier for him. It is a great story.”
Cozart is one of three Reds position players returning from surgery last season. Center fielder Billy Hamilton underwent right shouler surgery and catcher Devin Mesoraco underwent hip surgery.
Unlike Cozart, both Hamilton and Mesoraco have come back slowly. That isn’t to say they didn’t work as hard as Cozart. They did. And it just shows how difficult it is to return to the major league field and pick it right back up after major surgeries.
That makes Cozart something special.
AND HE IS EXACTLY what the Reds need right now. Hamilton is the guy the Reds want at the top of the batting order to utilize his world class speed. But he has to get on base to put it the speed into play. He hasn’t been able to do that.
So Cozart has stepped in. He isn’t blessed with an inordinate amount of speed, but he does what a leadoff hitter is supposed to do. He gets on base. His on base average so far this year is .464 and his OPS is 1.104 (a combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage, four doubles in 25 at bats).
No, it won’t continue, not at this pace. Not even Joey Votto could maintain what Cozart has done in the seven games he has played.
But it won’t be because he doesn’t try, doesn’t mean he won’t work as hard as he always does. It is in his genes.