Ken Griffey Jr. attributes part of his push to join the 600-home run club to longevity. Being healthy again also has helped as he moves closer to overtaking another storied name on the career list.
On Sunday, Griffey homered twice against the team he started his career with, but the Reds lost 3-2 to Seattle. The two homers gave Griffey 584, moving him past Mark McGwire into sole possession of seventh place.
“You play long enough, you hit a few out and you catch people,” said Griffey, whose 21 homers this season rank second in the NL behind the 26 of Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder.
The Reds (29-47) own the worst record in the NL, but are 10-9 when Griffey homers.
At the start of his 19th season in the majors, Griffey was tied with Reggie Jackson for 11th on the home run list. Since then, he’s passed Rafael Palmeiro, Harmon Killebrew and McGwire, and needs three homers to overtake Frank Robinson.
Griffey hit 27 homers in 109 games in 2006, a season in which he missed nearly a month with a strained tendon in his knee. From 2001-06, he’s been placed on the DL eight times and averaged just 92 games per year.
His success this season seems somewhat surprising, considering he missed most of spring training to recover from a broken left hand and has had to learn a new position, with the Reds shifting the 37-year-old career center fielder to right.
Griffey has played in 70 of the Reds’ 76 games this year, but missed two of three games against the Phillies in April due to illness. He was limited to an RBI double as a pinch hitter during a 9-3 loss in the series finale April 23.
In his career against the Phillies, Griffey is hitting just .202 (12-for-109) with three homers, but all of them have come in Philadelphia.
After a pair of so-so outings in his first two starts against formidable opponents Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels, Homer Bailey (2-0, 4.00 ERA) looks to build on a breakthrough start for the Reds. The right-hander, considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball going into this season, limited Oakland to a run and two hits over seven innings of a 5-2 win last Tuesday.
“We needed a good start and he gave it to us,” Reds manager Jerry Narron said. “He’s had three pretty good outings against three pretty tough clubs.”
Griffey’s solo homer in the third staked Bailey to a 4-0 lead, but the seventh overall pick by the Reds in the 2004 draft has struggled with control, walking 11 in 18 innings.
Philadelphia (39-36) comes in having alternated losses and wins in its last six games. Pinch hitter Shane Victorino’s three-run double in the eighth inning snapped a tie and propelled the Phillies to a 5-1 win over St. Louis on Sunday.
Kyle Kendrick (1-0, 4.50), recalled from Double-A Reading on June 13, will make his third start for the Phillies and first against an NL opponent. Since taking over in the rotation for the injured Freddy Garcia, Kendrick has gone six innings and allowed three runs in each of his first two appearances.
“That’s always nice to get my first one out of the way,” Kendrick said after beating the Indians 9-6 last Tuesday for his first career victory. “Now, let’s keep going. I’m just trying to keep our team in the game and pitch my game.”
Philadelphia took two of three at home from Cincinnati in April.