The Cincinnati Reds outfield is sort of like the clown car you used to see at the circus. There’s simply no way that many guys can fit in there, but they just keep on getting out of the car. Cincinnati currently has these players vying for some sort of playing time among just three spots: Nick Senzel, Shogo Akiyama, Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino, Phillip Ervin, Mark Payton, Josh VanMeter, Travis Jankowski, and Scott Schebler. And that doesn’t even include Derek Dietrich, who was just added to the 60-man player pool roster yesterday, who has had some limited playing time in the outfield as well. The addition of the designated hitter role in 2020 could help spread out some at-bats a bit, and at least for Phillip Ervin, it’s something he’s happy about.
“Yeah, I’m excited about it,” said Ervin of the designated hitter being added for this season to the National League. “Always growing up, that’s basically, I loved playing baseball and I kind of liked to hit. So you throw me in the DH spot and that’s all I’ve got to do, I’m going to be happy about it. I won’t complain about it – I like the move.”
With the offseason signing of Nick Castellanos by the Reds, it likely meant that at-bats for Ervin were going to be diminished. Castellanos went on an absolute tear last season once he got out of Detroit, hitting .321/.356/.646 in 51 games with the Cubs in the second half after being traded. Cincinnati is going to have him in the lineup every single day. The team also picked up Shogo Akiyama in the offseason, giving the Reds another left-handed hitter to go with Jesse Winker in the outfield. Ervin likely finds himself as the 5th outfielder on the list, though as a right-handed hitter who has crushed lefties in his big league career to the tune of .313/.371/.536 could be an ideal platoon option for Winker or Akiyama. His split was even better last season, hitting .349/.411/.628 against opposite handed pitchers.
The designated hitter spot, however, could extend the number of at-bats he gets. If a left-handed pitcher is on the mound, it’s likely that Ervin winds up somewhere in the lineup – whether that’s going to be in the outfield or serving as the team’s starter as the designated hitter.
Eugenio Suarez, Nick Senzel are back to normal
The collective heart of Cincinnati Reds fans dropped in late January when it was announced that All-Star third baseman Eugenio Suarez had suffered a shoulder injury while at home and needed shoulder surgery. Coming off of a season where he crushed 49 home runs and set a new record for a Venezuelan born player for homers in a season, Suarez was being viewed – and rightfully so – as a key piece to the offense that Cincinnati was trying to build for the 2020 season.
While no one seems to have wanted what’s transpired both in baseball, and in the world, in 2020 – from a baseball perspective, the shut down likely did help get Eugenio Suarez to a healthier point to begin the season than he otherwise would have been at.
“It’s nice to see with the injuries, with Suarez, he’s 100% healthy now,” said Reds hitting coach Alan Zinter when asked about Eugenio Suarez and Nick Senzel coming back from shoulder injuries. “It’s really good to see those guys there at 100% because I didn’t see that in the spring. I don’t’ see the tentativeness in their swing, I see their eyes aren’t glazed over hoping it doesn’t hurt like during the injury. So they’re locked in, their eyes are laser locked on opening day, and it’s really exciting because they’re very good players.”
We learned earlier this month that Nick Senzel wasn’t going to be ready to begin the season back in March – that his shoulder just wasn’t quite ready. But as he noted, he’s 100% now.
“It honestly finally feels like a normal shoulder – it probably started to feel like a normal shoulder about a month ago,” said Senzel earlier this month. “It was really a long, grueling process with the shoulder. It’s really tough, but I made it through, stayed positive and now I’m ready to go.”
The 2020 season is going to be a sprint, not a marathon. Having both Suarez and Senzel ready to go and playing at 100% could be all the Reds need to make a run at the playoffs. With one of the best rotations in baseball, an improved offense with a healthy Suarez and Senzel may be exactly what Cincinnati needs to make a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.