Face Is Familiar, Not His Batting Average : Baseball: Duncan returns to Dodger Stadium wearing a different uniform and carrying a big stick.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He was back in uniform as advertised Thursday night, back from a stint on the disabled list in time for the Cincinnati Reds' four-game series at Dodger Stadium.

No, Kirk Gibson didn't take the field Thursday night, but a familiar face to Dodger fans did.

It was Mariano Duncan who came off the disabled list to play for the National League West-leading Reds, sporting a wide grin, a new hairdo and a .382 batting average.

Duncan got a hit, scored a run and reached base three times during the Dodgers' 2-1 victory over Cincinnati in 10 innings.

Duncan was transformed from an unhappy part-timer with the Dodgers to a productive everyday player when he and pitcher Tim Leary went to Cincinnati last July 18 in a trade for Kal Daniels and Lenny Harris.

Duncan experienced an emotional turnaround last summer in Cincinnati, and this year he has helped spark Cincinnati to its big lead.

But Duncan and his lofty batting average had retired to the bench with a pulled rib-cage muscle and he had missed the last 15 games.

It was a happy Duncan who returned to uniform Thursday, visiting with former Dodger teammates and taking his normal spot at second base.

"I'm so glad I'm in the lineup today," Duncan said before Thursday's game.

"Finally, I want to go out and do what I was doing before. I've been hitting the ball real good, now it's like starting over again."

Duncan struggled with injuries after he joined the Reds last year but hit well while playing shortstop and second. His start this season includes four home runs and 15 runs batted in. He credits new Manager Lou Piniella for creating a relaxed atmosphere.

"We had a lot of problems last year, a lot of problems with injuries, problems with Pete (Rose)," Duncan said.

"(Piniella) said go out and play, he lets you play your game. He gets everybody in, he don't sit anybody on the bench. We have fun here, we play like a team when we go on the field."

Reds' hitting coach Tony Perez said Duncan made an adjustment with his hands, cutting downhis overswing and raising his average.

"He's swinging quicker and shorter," Perez said. "(Now) he stays with the ball good, he's just swinging a good bat. He's stronger than people think."

Duncan said he isn't trying to impress his former team.

"Sometimes when you're playing the team you played for before, you try to do too much," he said. "When you try to do too much, you don't do anything."

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