Cozart's 2-HR night underlines his career year

Veteran shortstop heading into free agency when season ends

Cozart's 2-HR night underlines his career year

CINCINNATI -- Before the Reds took batting practice on Friday, the six players on the club with at least 20 home runs this season were gathered together for a photo. It's the first time so many players have reached that plateau in club history and just the 25th all-time in the Major Leagues.

Shortstop Zack Cozart entered the night with 20 homers and his wife, Chelsea, tweeted out that he "barely made the cut." A few hours later, Cozart took care of that issue against the Pirates at Great American Ball Park. In a 4-2 win, he slugged two solo homers off Chad Kuhl to put him at 22 for the season.

"It feels good to be mostly healthy at this point in the season and actually playing. It's been a couple of years where I haven't finished the season," said Cozart, who missed most of 2015 with right knee surgery and the final 21 games of '16 with tendinitis in the same knee.

As 2017 nears its end, it's a great time for Cozart to be entering the free-agent market for the first time.

Cozart said there have been no conversations between his agent and Cincinnati to this point. The rebuilding Reds have retained few of their veterans over the past few seasons, and Jose Peraza is the likely heir apparent at shortstop.

"I'm in a pretty good spot. I want to win. I'm 32 years old," Cozart said. "I want to play a long time, obviously, but I want to win. That will factor into what happens this offseason. I love Cincinnati, my family does. I would love to stay here. But there is no conversation. We're two weeks away from the end of the year. I just want to finish healthy, finish strong and see what happens."

The decision on whether to pursue Cozart is out of manager Bryan Price's hands, but he acknowledged the club's limitations.

"I do know he's very, very well thought of here and we'd like to see him back playing shortstop here," Price said. "The realism of the ability to get that done is yet to be known. I certainly imagine this is one of the times to take advantage of leveraging your success."

Cozart's previous career high was 16 homers, set in 2016. Batting .250 (12-for-48) in September, Cozart now has four homers over his past five games.

Reds team up for four homers

It was a 1-1 game in the bottom of the third inning with one out when Cozart attacked an 0-1, 97-mph fastball from Kuhl and drove it several rows into the left-field seats. Then, leading off the fifth inning, Cozart hit a 93-mph 2-1 pitch over the same wall for a 3-1 Reds lead.

The other members with at least 20 homers this season on the Reds are Joey Votto (35), Adam Duvall (31), Scott Schebler (27), Eugenio Suarez (25) and Scooter Gennett (24). Both Votto and Schebler went deep on Friday. If Gennett hits one more homer, the Reds will have five 25-homer players in one season for the first time since 1956.

Cozart is tied for the National League lead in homers by shortstops, despite having only 398 at-bats due to two stints on the disabled list with a strained right quadriceps. In his 111 games, he's batting .302/.391/.558 with 60 RBIs.

"I feel like I'm good [for] 15 or so, and that's getting your 600 at-bats. It's not even close to that, at-bat wise," Cozart said. "I feel like the biggest difference for me this year is I'm not chasing hits. I'm up there trying to put a good swing on a good pitch, and if I don't get a hit, I don't get a hit."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. 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.