Dickerson lets his play make case

Dickerson lets his play make case

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It didn't go over well when Chris Dickerson talked the talk. But the Reds outfielder has walked the walk, too, and no one can call that into question this spring.

Last month near the start of camp, Dickerson irritated manager Dusty Baker when he publicly aired his disappointment of a perception that he was being overlooked for center field. It appeared that it was Drew Stubbs' job to lose.

Whether or not that was the case then, it's a wide-open battle now. Dickerson is batting .371 (13-for-35) with one home run, six RBIs and a .405 on-base percentage. He was already in the hunt for the vacancy in left field when camp opened.

"After the first week, I knew I had something to prove," Dickerson said Wednesday morning before he went 1-for-2 with two steals vs. the Giants. "That's the case with every Spring Training. That's how you have to approach it."

"Hey, man, that's how you do it. You play your way into it," Baker said. "You don't talk your way into it. And he's playing."

After a 2-for-20 start, Stubbs has also heated up and is batting .297 (11-for-37) with a team-leading eight extra-base hits, including four homers.

Now it's quite possible that the Reds won't name an everyday left fielder or center fielder when camp breaks. With Dickerson, Stubbs, power hitter Jonny Gomes and right fielder Jay Bruce, Baker is contemplating a mix-and-match setup for the regular season that can vary depending on the situation day-by-day. On top of that, either Dickerson or Stubbs could be the leadoff hitter.

"We'll see. Certain guys are more conducive to hit than other guys," Baker said. "Certain days I might need a better defensive team out there [depending] on who's pitching for us. There are a lot of different factors when you make the lineup out every day. You put guys in a position where they're most likely to succeed. They might not like it sometimes."

Baker has alternated Stubbs and Dickerson in center field throughout spring. On Wednesday, Dickerson started and gave way to Stubbs after two at-bats. Stubbs was 1-for-3 with a two-run home run.

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It appears that no matter what combination of outfielders Baker employs, Dickerson has likely crossed the first hump of making the team. But he's no longer worried about, or at least publicly talking about, his role.

"At this point, we're all just here to get prepared to contribute," Dickerson said. "Wherever and whenever that is, I just want to be ready. I want to contribute to the overall success of the team. That's all I'm concerned about. When or where doesn't really matter."

Each day before games, Dickerson likes to stretch a string out from his locker and stare down the line at three beads with one eye opened. He believes it helps with his depth perception.

Before batting practice, Dickerson also takes practice swings with an odd-looking contraption that's strapped around his left knee and left forearm. The device is called "The Pitcher's Nightmare."

Dickerson is hoping there's truth in advertising when he gets into the regular season.

"I got it randomly and tried it out. I loved it," he said. "It's improved my hand position and getting through the baseball more. I don't want to get too crazy with peripheral tools but those two have helped me a lot."

Besides better hitting, Dickerson obviously needs better health. Last season, Dickerson batted .275 with two home runs, 15 RBIs, 11 stolen bases and a .370 on-base percentage. He was limited to only 97 games because of numerous injuries, including a severely sprained left ankle.

This spring, Dickerson has been both healthy and hitting.

"I came out here and did the work and worked with Brook [Jacoby, the hitting coach]," Dickerson said. "I was lucky I got off to a good start and felt really comfortable at the plate. It's carried over throughout spring. Hopefully we can build from there and take it into the season."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.