Reds' Phillips excited about clean-up role

SARASOTA, Fla. — His face always is complemented by a broad smile, but Brandon Phillips seems to be smiling broader and more often this spring — if that's possible.

Is a happy cleanup hitter a productive cleanup hitter? Or is that vice versa — a productive cleanup hitter is a happy cleanup hitter.

There hasn't been a pitch thrown yet this spring, so that remains to be seen, but Manager Dusty Baker believes Phillips is destined for an eye-popping season.

And, yes, Baker says Phillips is the team's No. 4 hitter.

"The way the lineup looks now, yeah, he'll be our cleanup hitter," Baker said. "He'll be better. Brandon is going to have a good year."

Phillips, 27, hit .261 with 21 homers, 78 RBI and 23 stolen bases last season, scaled down numbers from 2007 when he hit .288 with 30 homers, 94 RBI and 32 stolen bases.

"I'm big on realizing that a lot of players struggled in their third and fourth year," Baker said. "Now Brandon will adjust to what they were doing to him. Sometimes they wouldn't throw him a lot of strikes.

"Sometimes when you are in the middle of it, you can't see it," Baker added. "But when you are smart, like Brandon, and take some time away from it, then you step back and see things."

Phillips batted cleanup 114 times last season and is ready to do it again.

Phillips was unpacking specially designed red and black patent leather baseball shoes.

"I love hitting fourth, even though I'm not the prototypical No. 4 hitter," he said. "I do have some power, but I'm not that guy you think of as a home run hitter.

"I'm going to do my best and I do think I've been doing good in that four-hole," he added. "If you look at our team, I'm probably the only player qualified to hit there, if you pay attention to it. We have a lot of left-handers and we have to break 'em up."

He looked around the clubhouse and spotted Edwin Encarnacion and said, "and maybe him. It had to be me or Edwin and you have to take your pick. Dusty picked me and I feel like I'm ready to give us some more RBIs and some wins."