Price confident Phillips will find swing in 3-hole

Price confident Phillips will find swing in 3-hole

WASHINGTON -- Even though the third spot in the lineup is often occupied by the team's best hitter or a big run producer, Reds manager Bryan Price has been using second baseman Brandon Phillips there with no immediate plans to move him out.

Phillips, who turned 35 on Tuesday, finished June with no home runs and entered the first game of July -- his 33rd start in the No. 3 spot -- having gone nearly two months without a long ball. It's the longest homerless stretch of his career.

Phillips has six homers on the season, but five came in a four-day stretch from May 3-7. He entered Friday batting .234 with a .562 OPS since then, with nine of his 43 hits being doubles. Overall, he came in batting .256/.295/.379. He's been hitting between Joey Votto -- the previous No. 3 hitter -- and cleanup hitter Jay Bruce.

"I'm trying to stay aware to try and not bunch our left-handers and make it easier for our opponents," Price said. "I think Brandon provides us someone who puts the ball in play. He's second on our team in hits for the season. And he breaks up my lefties."

Phillips also has a .277 batting average on balls in play, down from .315 last season -- which could indicate he's also possibly been a little unlucky.

"I think he's certainly a better hitter in April and May than he was in June, and I anticipate July will be more like April and May than June," Price said. "I never say never in these situations. I always have the caveat that if I feel like I have to do something to get things turned around, I will and I can."

Worth noting

Reds consultant and senior advisor to baseball operations Lou Piniella has been watching the club the past few days, including on the current road trip. Piniella, who managed the club from 1990-92 and came back to the organization this past offseason, was expected to spend about a week per month watching and evaluating the team and players. He's been seeing games with president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty this week.

Price, who spent three years as Piniella's pitching coach in Seattle, doesn't feel like he has to look over his shoulder with him around.

"The thing is, I trust Walt would never put me in that situation, No. 1," Price said. "No. 2 is I love Lou, he's as big of a mentor to me as anybody I've had in my life in baseball. I enjoyed my three years with him immensely. I have a huge respect for him and I value his input. He also does not insinuate any of his opinions on me, like, this is what I should be doing.

"He gives me feedback, we have great discussions, he understands what we're going through and he understands how painful it is for all of us to go into this situation understanding what's ahead of us, but you can never really prepare yourself to struggle as much as we have in this current project we're on."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.