McCoy: Home-run hitting relief pitcher Lorenzen — the Reds’ Babe Ruth — gets start in center field

Credit: Andy Lyons

Credit: Andy Lyons

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” — Galatians 2:20.

That scripture, in small letters, is what is tattooed up and down the left arm of Cincinnati Reds pitcher/outfielder/pinch-runner/pinch-hitter Michael Lorenzen.

The 27-year-old right hander, whom teammates call ‘Zen,’ as in zen master, has done a 180 turnaround in his life, come a long, long way.

He has evolved from a rebellious teenager who spent summer days in Southern California sitting on the dock of the bay smoking marijuana to a God-fearing Bible-reading proponent of the Good Life.

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And he is forever evolving on the baseball field, too, emerging suddenly as Cincinnati's version of Babe Ruth, at least for one day.

On Wednesday night, Lorenzen became the first player since Babe Ruth to be the winning pitcher in a game, hit a home run in the same game and play the outfield in the same game. Ruth did it in 1921 and 98 years later so did Lorenzen.

While in college at Cal-Fullerton, Lorenzen played center field and would come to the mound to pitch as the team’s closer.

Reds manager David Bell has used Lorenzen mostly in relief, of course, but has at times put him in the outfield late in games. And he has used him to pinch-hit and pinch-run.

On Thursday afternoon, though, Lorenzen found himself in the starting lineup, playing center field. He has started before, of course, but that was as a starting pitcher, something he still desires.

But on Thursday he was in the lineup for the first time as an outfielder.

Bell informed Lorenzen that he would start and play center field after Wednesday’s game, during which Lorenzen pitched two innings (to get the win) and hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning, then played center field in the ninth inning.

“I don’t think he believed me at first,” said Bell. “It was fun telling him and he thought I was joking.”

If you want to believe this, Bell said it had nothing to do with the home run, “But it has been considered. It has been something we’ve talked about, something we’ve wanted to do.

“The home run didn’t hurt, but it was something we talked about earlier in th day,” Bell added. It was talked about because center fielder Nick Senzel is hurt, the Philadelphia Phillies started left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas and since Lorenzen pitched two innings Wednesday he wouldn’t be used as a pitcher Thursday.

Lorenzen said he didn’t sleep much Wednesday night, “But it was not nervousness, it was excitement. I was nervous on nights before I started as pitcher.

“As a position player in the National League, you have eight other guys in the lineup who can contribute,” he said. “As a pitcher, it is all on your shoulders. So for me it was more excitement than nerves.”

Lorenzen laughed out loud when somebody said, “Hey, you have to put Babe Ruth in the lineup.”

Lorenzen’s long-term goal, though, is not to became a regular outfielder, as Babe Ruth did. He wants back into the starting rotation.

“That’s still the goal, eventually,” he said. “When that happens, it is not up to me. Eventually I’d love to be a big league starting pitcher. That’s the goal.”

Nevertheless, his skills are, as they say, off the charts, and Lorenzen prefers to be referred to as a ball player, not as a pitcher. And he loves every facet of the game.

“Honestly, there isn’t one facet,” he said. “There are aspects, literally, every part of it that I love,” he said. “There is getting a strikeout in a big situation as a pitcher. There is throwing 90 to 100 pitches as a starter and see what you can make of it. There is getting a big hit as a batter that gives you the extreme feeling that is nothing like it. There is playing the outfield and making a big play or throwing somebody out. There is even something to like stealing a base.

“It is all great and I love it all,” he added. “I know very few players get to do all that and I do my best to stay prepared for it.”

Bell said Lorenzen is constantly in his ear, asking if he can do this and asking if he can do that and, said Bell, “Sometimes when I tell him I am going to pinch-hit for him, he looks me in the eye and says, ‘Are you sure?’ And he means it.”

Bell said he feels bad he hasn’t used Lorenzen more extensively beyond the pitcher’s mound, but his value on the hill is more important than his value on the grass.

“I’ve always said I don’t want to limit Michael, but I think I have,” said Bell. “I’ve learned a lot about my thinking and the limitations of my thinking. It is not only my job to listen to him but to also trust what I’m seeing.

“We don’t know what to expect today, but it would not surprise me to see him do well,” said Bell. “But it is asking a lot to start a game out there when he has never done it. We’ll see how it goes.”

The Big Story about a situation like this was when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed Shohei Ohtani out of Japan and used him as a pitcher and an outfielder. Bell was asked if the Angels using Ohtani both ways loosened up the thinking in baseball about doing it.

“That’s a good way to say it, loosen up, and that’s what I need to do with Michael,” said Bell. “A lot of things like this are happening in our game. The more you see it the more comfortable you get with it.

“But it’s my job not to wait for things to happen before I get comfortable with it. If I believe it is the right thing to do, then I should do it,” he added.

“We’ll look for more opportunities for him,” said Bell. “He has proved he can handle a lot because of the athlete he is and the way he takes care of himself. He works extremely hard to put himself in the position to do this. It is not fair to hold him back.

“We have a unique athlete and I want to do what is best for him,” Bell added. “I’ve been more cautious with him, fearing injury, than I’ve needed to be. I want to maximize for him and for us as a team. I’m still trying to figure that out — how to use him to his maximum.”

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