0

Keppinger breaks tip of finger

Jeff Keppinger had six hits in his first eight Grapefruit League at-bats for the Cincinnati Reds.

Unfortunately for the former Parkview High School and University of Georgia standout, those are the only at-bats he'll get this spring.

Keppinger, who had been trying to win a utility infield job with the Reds, will start the season on the disabled list after breaking the tip of his right index finger when hit by pitch.

It's just another bit of bad luck for Keppinger. The 26-year-old suffered a broken kneecap in 2005 while leading the Class AAA International League in hitting and is with his third organization in less than a year.

The New York Mets traded Keppinger to Kansas City season last July and the Royals then sent him to Cincinnati in an offseason deal.

Originally a fourth-round draft pick of Pittsburgh in 2001, Keppinger hit .284 with the Mets in 33 games in 2004 and .267 in 22 games with the Royals late last season. He has a .278 average and five homers in 176 major league at-bats.

With the Reds, Keppinger was competing with veteran Mark Bellhorn for a backup infield role.

He played second and third base in the early exhibition games and manager Jerry Narron was hoping to look at the right-handed hitter at first base as well.

"He made a great impression in the time he had," Narron said.

But the injury will cost Keppinger a spot with the Reds - at least at the start of the season.

"They brought me in here because I could hit and I was showing them what I can do," Keppinger, who was batting .750 with five runs and two RBIs, told Cincinnati beat writers after getting hurt. "Unfortunately, I can't do that now for a little bit."

Keppinger isn't the only infielder from Gwinnett County to be struck by the injury jinx this spring. A sprained right big toe cost Nick Green a chance to make the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Green, who was expected to battle fellow former Atlanta Braves infielder Jose Hernandez for a utility role, was sent to minor league camp by the Pirates without getting into a Grapefruit League game. The former Duluth standout signed with the Pirates as a free agent after playing with Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees last season.

"It's unfortunate," Pittsburgh general manager Dave Littlefield said.

"It's just bad timing with getting hurt. We'll certainly keep our eyes on him."

Green, 28, likely will start the season at Class AAA Indianapolis in the International League. He has a .243 career average in 269 major league games with the Braves, Devil Rays and Yankees.