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Cozart: ‘Ole Miss, Bruce and Hamilton’

CINCINNATI — Zack Cozart pulled a red and blue baseball cap with a block ‘M’ on it off his shelf and plopped it on his head for a TV interview.

“Ole Miss,” he said. “We have a lot of Florida State guys in here but they aren’t talking much smack to me. They know better. They know who is going to win.”

Cozart said Tyler Holt walked up to him to give him some grief and Cozart said with a smile, “I didn’t know Holt went to Florida State until he said something. I asked some Florida State people about him and they never heard of him.”

Holt played baseball at Florida State on two teams that qualified for the College World Series.

The real smack talk comes later, after Ole Miss and Florida State finish their football game tonight in Orlando, Fla.

COZART, HIS FOOTBALL CHATTER CONCLUDED, was asked about two other subjects — Billy Hamilton and the return of his good friend Jay Bruce, now wearing a New York Mets uniform.

Cozart was on deck Sunday when Hamilton winced in pain after checking his swing on a pitch in the third inning. When trainer Steve Baumann and manager Bryan Price joined Hamilton near the batter’s box, Hamilton tried to talk his way into staying into the game. It was apparent something was amiss with his left oblique.

When Cozart walked up, Hamilton was saying, “ I think I can go, I think I can go. I’m OK. I can stay in. I can play.” Cozart was having none of it and told Hamilton he needed to sit down. Now.

“A few years ago I had the smallest oblique strain. It hardly showed up on the MRI,” said Cozart. “But I know how painful it was. If you have something small like that and you swing one more time you can make it a long-term thing.

“Joey Votto and I were both talking to the Steve and Bryan and saying, ‘He has to get out of there,’ because something real small can turn into a season-end injury real quick. Hopefully it is just a couple of days for him. I know with obliques, everything you do — especially for him — running is a big part of his game. When you have a strain like that it is not good. The smaller the strain the better and we were just looking out for him.

“He wanted to stay in there and was trying to talk Bryan into it, but the smart thing was for him to come out,” said Cozart. “If you check a swing and feel it, it is not going to go away, especially if you swing and miss. We knew he shouldn’t be in there.”

Hamilton was scheduled to undergo an ultrasound before Monday’s game to determine the depth and severity of the oblique strain to see how many games he mightl miss.

BESIDES OLE MISS AND Billy Hamilton, Cozart’s other conversation topic before Monday’s game was former teammate/great friend Jay Bruce, returning to Cincinnati wearing a New York Mets uniform.

“I’m excited to see him, for sure, but it is going to be wierd seeing him in a Mets uniform,” said Cozart. “I was watching him on TV last night and I was happy to see him hit a home run off Mat Latos.”

Cozart smiled broadly recalling the home run because Bruce was one of the all-time best teammates and Latos was one of the all-time worst, a guy who ripped Reds players after he was traded to Miami two years ago.

Asked which part made him happiest, the Bruce homer or the fact it came off Latos, Cozart said, “All of it. I root for Jay every time, but maybe even a little more when he hits it off Latos.

“It will be bittersweet just to see him, but they are in the playoff race and we want to take it to them and knock them back a few steps,” Cozart added. “Jay and I text back and forth every other day and not anything baseball. Just what’s going on. When you play with somebody the same age as you for six years you’re going to be friends on and off the field. I miss more than anything just talking to him and seeing him in person.”

MANAGER BRYAN PRICE’S TAKE on Bruce is about the same.

“I’ve been watching Jay as much as possible when they are playing on TV,” said Price. “I want to see his at bats and see how he’s doing. He hit that home run yesterday and had another hit his first time up. He has been swinging the bat a lot better in his last 20-plus at bats. I’m hoping not to see that the next three days, but after that I hope he is a wrecking crew.”

Price, of course, awaits good news on Hamilton, but quickly said, “If it’s not, we’ll move ahead with the roster that we have and give somebody else some opportunity. But it will be a big loss because Billy brings a lot of energy and there is his defensive ability and he was starting to come into his own as an offensive player.”

PRICE REMAINS MYSTIFIED as to how the injury happened.

“When we saw him wince and went up to the plate I asked if anything happened to lead into this,” said Price. “He said no. I mean, the swing wasn’t even aggressive. He started and stopped. It’s a strange injury, something a lot more prominent than I can ever remember it ever being in years prior. We didn’t even know there was an oblique 15 years ago.”

If Hamilton misses much time, the beneficiary will be Jose Peraza, a guy hitting .490 since his August 22 recall from Class AAA Louisville, but an infielder by trade who can, and has, played the outfield.

“With our infield — Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Eugenio Suarez — there is not a ton of playing time available in the infield for anybody. That spot (center field) being open would create a spot of Peraza,” said Price.

Price indicated there will be a couple more call-ups by tomorrow, probably Tony Renda and Steve Selsky. And that’s it.

“I don’t want to have 10 to 12 guys on the bench who are going to sit around and not get a chance to play,” said Price. “I don’t think that is in the best interest of anybody except the player who gets to make 85 grand to do it.”

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