Reds' youth, depth keeping team atop NL Central

Reds' youth, depth keeping team atop NL Central

Reds' youth, depth keeping team atop NL Central
CINCINNATI -- It's not often that you can scan the lineup of a first-place team and find three rookies penciled in as starters.

The Reds aren't your ordinary first-place team.

Three Reds rookies -- shortstop Zack Cozart, third baseman Todd Frazier and catcher Devin Mesoraco -- have each made at least 29 starts this season, often with tremendous production.

Combined, the three rookies have totaled 126 hits, 18 home runs and 46 RBIs entering Sunday's game and have only committed 10 errors in the field.

While Cozart is the everyday starter at shortstop and has racked up more starts (62) than any other rookie shortstop in the league, Frazier has taken advantage of recent Reds injuries to Scott Rolen and Drew Stubbs to make his mark both at third base and the outfield.

"There's always injuries, or there's always something," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Very rarely do you go through a year with nothing. If you don't have guys who can come in and be productive, you're in bad shape because you're playing your second team against their first team. If you do that, more times than not, you're going to lose in the long run."

But it's not just the rookies making their presence known in Cincinnati.

The injuries to position players have allowed 13 different Reds to make their way into the starting lineup this season.

"You have to have that," Baker said. "When you've got your backup team performing well, you've got to have a good bench. When you have injuries, you can't go south for two weeks until your guys get back. There's a lot of baseball left."

The Reds have played 70 games so far this season, with 92 still to go.

Friday's game began a 17-day stretch of consecutive games heading into the All-Star break, a period Baker said will require the full strength of the bench.

"We're going to need everybody," Baker said. "This is 17 in a row dragging into the break. That's why they give you a break. They didn't give you a break because you feel strong. We've got to push, push, push and keep on pushing through the break."

Baker rested both Cozart and Rolen on Sunday, giving the nod to Frazier and utility man Wilson Valdez.

Filling in for Stubbs in center field, Chris Heisey has earned his stripes both at the plate and in the field. The move has also allowed Ryan Ludwick to increase his impact on the team.

"We're going to find a way to play everybody," Baker said. "That's how I do, and that's how you stay strong for the whole year and that's how you keep guys healthy."

In total, 16 different position players have taken the field for the Reds in 2012.