Janish feels willing, able to fill any role for Reds

Janish feels willing, able to fill any role for Reds

Janish feels willing, able to fill any role for Reds
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- In between trying to bury his miserable 2011 season and enjoying the arrival of his first baby, Paul Janish took notice of one of the Reds' transactions in late January.

It was the trade that brought Wilson Valdez from the Phillies to man the utility infield spot that Janish is hoping to win at Spring Training, especially with rookie Zack Cozart on the inside track to start at shortstop.

"That's the writing on the wall, right?" Janish said. "Personally, I feel like I am a big league ballplayer, whether that means a utility capacity or getting the opportunity to play somewhere every day. Time will tell. I think I still belong in the big leagues. Worst-case scenario, I feel like I'm a utility guy. There's a demand for that. You hate to think negatively, but the numbers are what they are. You have to find a way to be optimistic about it."

Janish, 29, is staring at a far different scenario this spring than this time last year. Based on his play in 2010 filling in for Orlando Cabrera, he was the regular shortstop to open last season.

This spring, Janish just hopes to land a job -- somewhere, anywhere -- on the 25-man roster.

"The last couple of years coming into camp, I pretty much had in some capacity or another a spot on the team," Janish said. "This year, I would not describe that being the case. At the same time, it's still an opportunity to make the team. It's a different mentality."

The Reds didn't need Janish to hit .300 for them last season, but when their offense sputtered at times, his lack of production really stood out. Overall, he batted only .214 with no home runs and 23 RBIs and lost his regular spot to veteran Edgar Renteria before being sent back to Triple-A Louisville for two weeks in July. Janish only returned when an elbow injury put Cozart out for the season.

But in that span, Cozart batted .324 over 11 games and the prospect leapfrogged to the top of the list at shortstop.

"If we didn't have a guy like Cozart that's in the mix now, we'd probably be waiting on Janish to get it together," Reds manager Dusty Baker said bluntly. "But as sports and the world are now, people aren't very patient to wait on anything or anybody."

Janish's first month of 2011 was productive enough -- he batted .289 in April -- before the quick plunge that included a .141 May. He never really recovered the rest of the way.

"It was one of those things that kind of snowballed on me," Janish said. "When I got into a funk, I struggled to get out of it. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I think all of us do to a certain extent. It's nobody else's fault. Hopefully I can learn from that and move on."

Defense has always been Janish's calling card, but even that took a hit last season with 10 errors in 103 games at shortstop.

Did the offensive woes Janish endured bleed into his work in the field?

"It's hard to say," Janish said. "I'd like to say no, but at the same time, I didn't play as well defensively as I would have liked to either. Hopefully I have it all figured it out."

The birth of Luke Janish, now 4 1/2 months old, helped accelerate the turning of the page away from last season.

"Just in general, it helps put things in perspective," Janish said. "The main thing is it kept me busy. It's a life-changing deal and it helped me take my mind off of everything else."

Once it was back to baseball and Spring Training, Janish found the infield competition crowded. Besides Cozart and Valdez, the Reds are also looking at Willie Harris, Todd Frazier and Chris Valaika to possibly fill utility roles.

Where Janish fits, and how, remains to be seen.

"He's still in the mix, big time," Baker said of Janish. "If he continues especially to try and improve on his hitting, this guy is a big league shortstop."

Janish started Sunday at shortstop and was 1-for-3 vs. the D-backs with a double off of the left-field wall in the fifth inning. It moved his spring average to .261 in 12 games.

There have also been appearances at second base and third base thus far. Janish even told Baker he was willing to try the outfield. Valdez has already made a couple of appearances out there. Baker was noncommittal if he'd try Janish in a new position.

"It's not like I can't do it. I just never had to do it," Janish said. "Whether or not it actually happens here in camp, I don't know. It's a situation where you do what you have to do."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.