McCoy: Right-hander Hoffman ‘starting fresh’ with Reds

Veteran who spent five seasons with Rockies starting Sunday’s game vs. Cardinals

Take a peek at the back of Jeff Hoffman’s baseball card. It isn’t pretty.

Take a peek at Hoffman’s spring training statistics. It isn’t pretty.

As Mark Twain once said, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.”

Hoffman trudges to the mound Sunday afternoon to pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals. Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell hopes Twain is dead-on when it comes to Hoffman.

During his five years wearing a Colorado Rockies uniform (and often a Rockies minor-league uniform), the 28-year-old right-hander was 10-16 with a 6.40 earned run average over 38 starts and 30 bullpen assignments.

It was apparent he needed new scenery. And it was apparent Reds pitcher Robert Stephenson needed a change. So the two swapped uniforms.

Hoffman was 0-2 with an 8.50 earned run average in five starts and one relief appearance during spring training. Splice those figures with his Colorado tear sheet and those aren’t numbers to live by.

And the only reason Hoffman is in the rotation is because Trevor Bauer is gone, Anthony DeSclafani is gone and both Sonny Gray and Michael Lorenzen are on the injured list.

But both Bell and Gray are wearing optimistic faces.

“We’re excited about Jeff,” said Bell. “He’s been a talented pitcher for a long time. We’re happy to acquire him.”

Hoffman was talented at East Carolina University and the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him in the first round in 2014. But he has yet to find his niche.

“He has really settled in, really loves being here, he likes working with our pitching coaches. We see a guy that’s trending upward and is going to keep getting better,” Bell added. “We like pitchers like him, the stuff that he has. We feel like we can maximize his abilities. He showed us enough in spring training for us to be really excited.”

Hoffman calls trading the purple of Colorado for the red of Cincinnati a new beginning, a rebirth of his stalled and unfulfilled career.

“I love this team, man. It is going to be a fun year,” he said. “A rebirth? Yes, it really has. It has been very much like a weight off my shoulders, going through camp.

“For me, knowing that the past doesn’t matter and we’re starting fresh and moving forward from here, trying to put our best foot forward each time out, means a lot. With guys like D.J. (pitching coach Derek Johnson) and Jags (assistant pitching coach Eric Jager) on our side, it’s a best-case scenario for me. I try to get one percent better each day out there.”

Johnson & Jager did some minor tinkering, some fine-tuning this spring on the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Hoffman.

“We definitely adjusted a few different things,” said Hoffman. “We adjust locations on where I throw certain pitches. I’m learning where to expand the zone on certain counts. And at the very end of spring we made a couple of mechanical adjustments that I took into my last outing.”

Over the last couple of days, while even playing catch, Hoffman has used more than 200 reps to get the feel of those adjustments and carry them into Sunday’s start.

“We continue to rep those out and get the right feel for that,” he said. “There are a handful of adjustments, but D.J. and Jags are real good about not throwing too much at you at once. They allow you to make an adjustments and really nail it down before moving on to the next thing.”

And what is the status of Gray and his problematic back?

“He is doing well,” said Bell. “He pitched the other day in an intrasquad game. All indications are that he is on track. It’s just a matter of time. . .we don’t have a date set. His next step is at the alternate site in Louisville to take one more step toward getting back here, increasing his workload and the amount of pitches he throws.”

Lorenzen is another story.

“He is a little bit behind Sonny,” said Bell. “He did take a step back. He did have a little bug the other day, not COVID related, and he is fully recovered from that. But because of the little step-back that he had he’ll be a little bit behind Sonny.”

In addition, the Reds are missing two center fielders. Shogo Akiyama began the season on the injured list and will report to the team’s alternate site in Louisville for the continuation of his recovery. And Nick Senzel jammed his shoulder making a diving catch on Opening Day and left the game. Bell said Senzel is expected back in the lineup as early as Sunday.

There are no dates to circled on the calendar for Akiyama’s return as he rehabs his pulled hamstring.

“I’m able to play catch and the process is going well,” Akiyama said through a translator before Saturday’s game. “Just taking it step-by-step right now. I’m been walking and running, using my legs. I’ve been able to hit off a tee and off some soft-tossing.”

Akiyama obviously was displeased that he couldn’t play on Opening Day and said, “Definitely, it was disappointing. I knew when I got injured I wasn’t going to be ready for Opening Day. I wanted to make the Opening Day lineup.

“With the long season, the first priority is to not leave the team again,” he said. “I need to be prepared when I come back to stay with the team the rest of the season.”

While Akiyama works his way back, his wife was slightly injury when a tree limb fell on her.

“She’s doing better than me,” said Shogo. While that’s good news for Shogo, that’s not good news for the Reds.

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