Encarnacion knows areas he must fix

Published 9:07 pm Saturday, February 21, 2009

Too many home run swings. Way too many errors. Cincinnati Reds third baseman Edwin Encarnacion knows what he needs to fix.

The 26-year-old infielder spent his offseason trying to take care of his two most glaring deficiencies. He turned into a home runner hitter last season, to the detriment of his other statistics.

And, he still couldn’t get the ball to first base with any regularity.

Email newsletter signup

Encarnacion made 23 errors last season, continuing his career-long trend of sloppy mistakes. Defense has always been his biggest problem. He had 40 errors in only 136 games for Class A Dayton in 2002, an indication of what was to come.

He had 25 errors with the Reds in 2006, but reduced that to 16 in 2007. Last year, it was back up again, giving him something to work on during the offseason.

‘‘I worked on throwing,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s the problem I have. I catch everything. Sometimes, I throw it away. The first thing to win games is play good defense.’’

Encarnacion tends to make the rapid-fire plays without problem. It’s the ones where he has time to think — the slow roller, the grounder right to him that provides a lot of time to set and throw — that befuddle him.

Despite the problems, the Reds have stuck with him. On Tuesday, they avoided arbitration and agreed to a two-year deal that will pay him at least $7.6 million.

The other thing he needs to work on is his mindset at the plate. He hit a career-high 26 homers last season — 10 more than his previous high — but watched his other numbers tumble. He drove in only 68 runs, down from 76 the previous year, and batted only .251, down from .289.

By trying to pull the ball and hit more homers, he wound up hurting himself.

‘‘Sometimes, I try to hit the ball too hard and pull it,’’ Encarnacion said. ‘‘Somtimes your mind goes crazy. You have to be smart in this game. You’ve got to go to the plate with a plan. That makes you a better hitter.’’

Manager Dusty Baker talked to him in the offseason about getting back to his old approach and going to right-center more often.

‘‘To be a pull hitter, you’ve got to be perfect all the time with your swing,’’ Baker said. ‘‘You’re cutting your territory down. It’s like using a slice of the pie rather than the whole pie. They can start defending you easier.’’