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Byrnes has stepped up play after injury in ’08

Arizona Diamondbacks' Eric Byrnes follows through on a double in a game against the Florida Marlins in Miami in June, three days before he went on the disabled list.

Arizona Diamondbacks' Eric Byrnes follows through on a double in a game against the Florida Marlins in Miami in June, three days before he went on the disabled list.

Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Eric Byrnes is almost always a fun-loving, joking-around type of guy, but he wasn’t all smiles a year ago while rehabbing a nagging hamstring injury.

He is feeling good again.

The Diamondbacks’ sparkplug got his fifth straight hit in spring training during a 7-3 loss to San Francisco on Tuesday at Tucson Electric Park.

“To string together five in a row . . . I am not going to complain about that, especially when they all were hit pretty solidly,” Byrnes said.

The injury has kept Byrnes out of the regular season lineup since June 30. That has been a long time to think about the game, what he has missed and what more he can do – too long for Byrnes.

“It just feels good to play the game again,” he said. “I think last year I lost a lot of my enthusiasm for the game. It was so difficult to try to stay healthy and try to fight through the injuries.

“This year from the first game I played . . . it was like, ‘Wow, this is why I play baseball and why I went through nine months of rehab.’

“I love the game. I forgot how much fun the game was in general.”

Byrnes opened the spring with a 0-for-3 outing against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday. He then went 3 for 3 against Kansas City the next day.

He opened up the first inning against the Giants with a line-drive run-scoring single. As an added boost he immediately stole second base. He hit a single in the third before later striking out.

“He is a key for us,” said Arizona manager Bob Melvin. “He has been an important cog to our team that we have missed. It is nice to see him out there. I know he is pretty excited about the way he is playing right now. There are no limitations with his legs.”

Byrnes went from hitting .286 with 50 stolen bases in 2007 to four steals and a .209 average a year ago. He has been getting more visibility on the FSN Arizona 30-minute “Eric Byrnes Show” than on the field since his injury last year.

“I feel like I am fighting for playing time,” Byrnes said. “Any time I go out there that is my mentality. I want to pretty much instill it in the Diamondbacks’ mind I am ready to play and play at the level I did before when I was healthy, or even better.”

But the D’backs have three good, young outfielders in Justin Upton, Chris Young and Conor Jackson, and that may limit his playing time.

There is still some work to do. Tuesday, he misjudged a fly ball to center field that allowed three runs to score.

“In the field things feel a little foreign,” he said. “I have not been out there in nine months. I have taken a lot of outfield work this spring, but I have to get used to playing out there again.

“I thought I got a good read on the ball and it carried over my head. I looked up and it was going over my shoulder. It is a tough play, but it is a play I will make every time.”


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