The Cincinnati Reds lead the league in a dubious facet of the game, one classified as minutiae and something no team or manager wants to see.
The Reds have used four different position players to finish out-of-hand games as pitchers — Cliff Pennington, Alex Blandino, Phillip Ervin and Brandon Dixon.
Amazingly enough, those four guys have pitched 3 1/3 innings and have not given up a run and have not given up a walk and have struck out four.
Hearing this, relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen smiled and said, “I’ll have to ask them for some tips.”
Lorenzen, though, was involved in something Monday night against the Indians that probably never has happened in the majors. While infielder Brandon Dixon pitched the ninth inning, Lorenzen, a pitcher, played right field.
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That, though, isn’t a stretch because Lorenzen played centerfield in college at Cal State-Fullerton and was the team’s closer, coming in from the outfield to close out games on the mound.
Although manager Jim Riggleman has used him as a pinch-hitter several times this season, playing the outfield was a first.
“That felt good, it was fun,” said Lorenzen. “It has been a while, but it was a good time. The circumstances weren’t good (the Reds trailed, 10-3), but my family had a blast watching that and ultimately that is important for me.”
There were no balls hit to him as Dixon soft-tossed his way through the inning, retiring the top three batters in the Tribe order — Franisco Lindor on a pop-up to shortstop, Michael Brantley on a fly ball to left field and Jose Ramirez, he of the 35 home runs, on a strikeout.
“I was absolutely hoping somebody would hit me the ball,” said Lorenzen. “With those three hitters I thought for sure I might have to climb a wall or something. But Dixon and his 65 miles an hour cutters were fantastic.”
When Dixon’s strikeout of Ramirez was mentioned, Lorenzen laughed and said, “I hope I can do that to him.”
Lorenzen said playing right field is no challenge, “Because I grew up that way. I feel more comfortable out there than normal pitchers would. The season is extremely long and you are going to have losses like that. We need to leave that type of loss with some type of energy that it’s good for you. Instead of everybody coming in here upset, we can say, ‘We lost and it wasn’t funny, but it was fun watching Dixon do what he did.’”
Every position player who gets to pitch in a major league game is all smiles after a game, talking about how much fun it is. But to catcher Tucker Barnhart, the guy who catches them, ‘fun’ isn’t in his vocabulary in that situation.
What is it like to catch position players?
“To be honest, it stinks,” he said. “It is because of the circumstances. You never have a guy like that come into a game when you are winning. So, yeah, to answer the question, it stinks to high heavens.”
And Barnhart has a distinct message for position player pitchers
“Throw strikes,” he said. “In those kinds of games we’ve been out there for quite some time playing defense so the last thing we want is to be out there any longer. So, I tell them to throw strikes and if you are going to give up hits give ‘em up quick. Dixon did it He threw strikes and that’s all you can ask him to do.”
Manager Jim Riggleman deplores that he has to do it and it is all about saving and preserving the bullpen in blowout games. He doesn’t want to waste Jared Hughes or David Hernandez or Raisel Iglesias when his team is down seven or eight runs in the ninth inning.
“Sometimes guys really want to do and they like to try it,” said Riggleman. “There is alway some risk involved and we try to convince them of what Dixon did last night and what Ervin did — just lay it up there nice and easy and see what happens. Don’t try to fire it in there and hurt yourself.
“I’ve had some guys in the minors do it and go out there and argue with umpires about the calls and they’re firing the ball and the pitch count is up and I’m trying to deal with the umpire so they don’t get thrown out,” Riggleman added. “These guys have been real mature about how they’ve done it.”
SPEAKING OF EMERGENCY pitching, who is the Reds’ emergency catcher since there are only two catchers on the roster, Tucker Barnhart the Curt Casali?
“That’s another good question,” said Riggleman. “Sometimes I’m looking out there and wondering. I’m reluctant to take both catchers out of the game even in the seventh or eighth inning. If I’ve used one and the other gets a broken thumb or a concussion and has to come out. . .well, I’ve looked around and might have to ask for volunteers. If Brandon Dixon was in the game or still available, he would be the guy who could possibly do it.”
So that makes Dixon an infielder, an outfielder, an emergency pitcher and an emergency catcher.
THERE HAVE BEEN SOME recent struggles out of left handed relief pitcher Amir Garrett, including four runs on four hits in two-thirds of an inning Monday.
“I don’t know what the issue is,” said Riggleman. “He had a couple of good appearaances before last night and looked as if he was back on track. Then last night he made some bad pitches.
“He is a big, strong guy and his workload hasn’t been that high,” Riggleman added. “Early in the year it pointed that way, like he was getting quite a bit of usage. Then the usage tailed off and sometimes we are so careful how we use them that sometimes they are better when they pitch more and get through it. When we backed down is when Amir has been less effective.”
THE WEEKEND OF August 24-26, major league players will wear nicknames on the back of their jerseys instead of their last names.
Some of the Latin players need translators and for the Reds it is El Ciclon (The Cylone for Raisel Iglesias), La Piedra (The Stone for Luis Castillo), El Llanereo (The Farmer for Wandy Peralta) and Noelle (“My 10-month old daughter”) for Eugenio Suarez.
Other interesting Reds nicknames: Robot for Jared Hughes, “Because I do a great imitation of a robot) Dal3 for Scooter Gennett in honor of his deceased NASCAR hero Dale Earnhardt, whose race car was always No. 3, Zen Master for Michael Lorenzen because of his religious and studious nature, Magic for Phillip Earvin, as in Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Bone for Billy Hamilton as in hambone and Dilly for Dilson Herrera for obvious reasons.
And the Reds may be the only team with two players wearing the same nickname on their backs. Both Tucker Barnhart and Preston Tucker will wear ‘Tuck.’
THERE IS A LARGE HOLE in the wall outside the visitors clubhouse, compliments of pitcher Trevor Bauer. No, he didn’t punch a hole in anger. He was exercising with a heavily weighted ball and his first toss went through the wall.
“I thought the wall was concrete, but it was plasterboard,” he said sheepishly.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Winning is fun, so much fun and a whole lot better than losing.” — Indians first baseman Yonder Alonso, the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick in 2008, but has bounced around with mostly losers with the Reds (briefly), San Diego, Oakland and Seattle before the Indians signed him as a free agent last winter.