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Casey has no explanation for lack of home run production

CINCINNATI - The cover of the Cincinnati Reds media guide shows Sean Casey raising his arms to congratulate Ken Griffey Jr. after one of his home runs.

When it comes to homers, Casey has done a lot more congratulating than circling this season, a mystery that has no explanation. The burly first baseman has only four homers despite playing in the majors' most homer-friendly ballpark.

''It's just the flukey part of baseball, it really is,'' Casey said Monday. ''Every year, there's always some part of your game that you can't explain.''

This one is mind-boggling.

With its close wall in right field - only 325 feet down the line - Great American Ball Park is a haven for left-handed power hitters. Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. have taken advantage of its dimensions.

In fact, just about everyone has - left-handed or right-handed - except Casey, whose home run numbers are declining.

He hit 19 homers in 2003, the ballpark's first season, and 24 last year - one shy of his career high. This year, he didn't get his first homer at Great American until Sunday, a solo shot that was his fourth overall this season.

He hasn't hit them in Cincinnati, or anywhere else. He went 32 games and 138 at-bats between this third homer - June 5 in Colorado - and his fourth.

Casey said he feels fine and hasn't made any changes in his swing. He's hitting the ball often (a .310 average), just not very far.

''I expect to hit for some more power in the second half,'' he said. ''We'll see. I'm not trying to hit home runs.''

The lack of homers by Casey doesn't bother interim manager Jerry Narron, who inherited a team that hits a lot of them but does a poor job of squeezing runs out of anything less.

''I really believe that over 162 games, everybody seeks their level,'' Narron said. ''Casey's level is between 15 and 25 home runs. He's still one of the better hitters in baseball. He puts the ball in play. We're lucky to have him in the middle of the order.''

Casey thinks it's premature to decide he's falling short on power, pointing out that he's been known to hit homers in bunches.

''I think it will be a more realistic conversation in September,'' Casey said. ''In 2000, I hit four in the first half and 16 in the second. Last year, I hit 15 in the first half and nine in the second.''

Still, the lack of even one at Great American had started to bother him. He was particularly happy to round the bases for the first time on Sunday.

''The fact that I didn't have one at home - it was like, 'You're kidding me,''' Casey said. ''It was bugging me a little bit, but it was going to come eventually.''

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VALENTIN BACK TO BENCH: Javier Valentin's bat went into the Reds' Hall of Fame on Monday. Valentin went back to the bench.

The reserve catcher wasn't in the starting lineup Monday, a day after he hit a grand slam and a three-run homer in a 9-4 victory over Colorado. The switch-hitter became the first Reds player to homer from both sides of the plate since Pete Rose did it in 1967.

Narron wants Valentin to play on Wednesday and Thursday, the final two games of a series against the Cubs. So, Jason LaRue was behind the plate on Monday.

''He talked to me,'' Valentin said. ''He said I'd probably play Wednesday and Thursday. He asked me how I feel. I told him I feel good. I'll just wait for Wednesday and get ready.''

Valentin said his father, Jose, enjoyed the two-homer game at least as much as he did. His father, 58, is visiting from Puerto Rico for a few weeks and was in the stands Sunday. The two of them went out to eat on Sunday night, and got recognized by fans.

''It was great for him,'' Valentin said. ''He enjoyed seeing a game like that, especially when you don't play everyday. I told him (when he arrived) that he's probably going to see me play five or six games. I know my job.''

Valentin also talked to his brother, Jose, an infielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jose Valentin also switch-hits and has homered from both sides three times during his career, most recently on July 30, 2003, during a three-homer game.

Valentin played it low-key when he realized that his brother wasn't aware of what had happened. He then handed the phone to his father to break the news.

''He didn't even know,'' Valentin said.

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WAITING FOR FREEL: Narron is looking forward to getting utility player Ryan Freel back. Freel is on a minor league rehabilitation stint, recovering from a sore foot.

''It will be a chance to get some rest for some guys,'' Narron said. ''He's going to play second, third, and probably left, center and right.''