CHICAGO -- The Cubs face three right-handers during their series with the Reds, which means Reed Johnson and his sizzling bat are spending a lot of time on the bench.
Johnson is hitting .516 (16-for-31) in August, tops in the Majors. He has upped his average to .313, getting above .300 for the first time since April.
"I just feel like I finally got some rhythm," Johnson said before Wednesday's game against Cincinnati. "I hadn't had my rhythm for about a year and a half after back surgery [for a herniated disk in April 2007]. I just haven't been able to find my swing. In the last month, I've felt really close to where I need to be and where I was in 2006."
Johnson hit .319 with Toronto in 2006 but was cut loose by the team at the end of Spring Training this year. The Cubs gobbled him up and received solid production until his back problems flared in June. A precautionary two weeks on the disabled list didn't hurt his swing. If anything, the time off revitalized it.
"The injury was nothing that I was really worried about," Johnson said. "I just didn't have rhythm at the plate. My back's been fine all year, except for that one stint where it locked up for four or five days in a row, and I ended up going on the DL."
He hit .340 in July after his back felt normal again. Johnson has only gotten five August starts due to his platoon in center with Jim Edmonds, yet has somehow stayed on a hot streak despite not playing every day. That's not easy, just ask fellow part-timer Daryle Ward, who endured a 4-for-40 slump as a pinch-hitter before his game-winning pinch-hit homer on Friday.
"It takes a lot of mental focus, you're just constantly concentrating on keeping a good swing," Ward said. "You want your swing to be as perfect as possible when you go into a situation like that. That's one thing that [Johnson] does well. I'd say him and [Mike] Fontenot are two guys that I've really talked to on the bench and made sure that they're at least mentally ready."
Johnson is 4-for-12 in pinch-hitting duties this month, including a tiebreaking two-run homer on Aug. 3 against the Pirates. Ward, an 11-year veteran, has been a mentor to the younger guys on the bench, including Johnson.
"Reed has been in the league a little while now, so he doesn't have to ask as many questions like Fontenot would," Ward said. "[Johnson] helps me out just as much as I help him out. We watch each other's swings and we make sure that we're as close as possible to being like an everyday guy."
The Nationals come to town on Friday with two left-handers scheduled to start. And that should translate to less bench time for one of the league's hottest hitters.
"Now, it's just a matter of me getting in a cage and trying to find my swing and trying to find my rhythm," Johnson said. "Hopefully, I'll continue to do that."
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.