Of the many surprises Friday night at Great American Ball Park — the worst offense in the National League scoring 11 runs, that same team blowing an 8-0 lead and losing 12-11 in 11 innings and five relievers from one of baseball's best bullpens combining to allow nine runs — there was this: Nick Senzel wore Matt Kemp's shoes in his big-league debut for the Cincinnati Reds.
» PHOTOS: Twenty shots of Senzel in first game
“It was a long story,” Senzel said. “I don’t really have much of my stuff. I let Matt borrow a pair of my glasses in spring training, and he let me have some shoes.”
That was a minor footnote for Senzel, who had an evening to remember on a night to forget for the Reds. They had a 99 percent win probability, according to BaseballReference.com, after taking an 8-0 lead in the third inning but lost the opener of a four-game series and fell to 13-19. The game included 30 hits, though none by Joey Votto, who went 0-for-7 for the second time in his career, and took four hours and 29 minutes to play.
Senzel wearing Matt Kemp’s shoes? pic.twitter.com/7mWlNJpzVE— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) May 4, 2019
Senzel, who was promoted from Triple-A Louisville on Friday, went 1-for-5 with two walks. He started in center field and hit second.
“I’ll take it,” Senzel said. “It was just good being out there. I was happy with some of the at-bats I had, especially battling back and seeing a lot of pitches and drawing a couple walks. I was fairly happy with most of my at-bats.”
Giants center fielder Kevin Pillar robbed Senzel of a bloop single with a sliding catch in the first inning, but Senzel had luck on his side in the ninth when he hit a dribbler down the third-base line and it stopped in the grass before the Giants could field it. After the game, he wasn’t sure if anyone had grabbed the ball from his first hit but was assured it was on the desk of clubhouse manager Rick Stowe.
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Despite the result, Senzel raved about the experience of playing in a Major League Baseball game nearly three years after the Reds drafted him out of the University of Tennessee with the No. 2 overall pick in 2016. He received a loud ovation from a crowd of 23,728 when he hit in the first inning.
“I dreamed about it, but it was nothing like that,” Senzel said. “It was pretty surreal walking up to the plate hearing my name and how the crowd reacted was really special to me. I know they’ve supported me since I got drafted and just to come this far and for the city of Cincinnati to have my back like this, it was really emotional and really special.”
Senzel passed his first test in center field, a position he started to learn in spring training, by chasing down a long fly ball on the warning track and making an over-the-shoulder catch.
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Senzel was the first rookie to debut for the Reds this season.
“He made some good plays in the outfield,” Reds manager David Bell said. “His athleticism and speed showed up in the game tonight, but more than anything, it’s just a special night. It would have been great to win, but I’m sure it’s a night he’ll remember for sure.”
Senzel joins an outfield featuring a number of struggling hitters. Jesse Winker’s hitting .243 but leads the team with eight home runs. Yasiel Puig is hitting .188. Matt Kemp is on the injured list with a broken rib, so his average is stuck at .200. Scott Schebler’s average fell to .123 when he grounded out with the bases loaded to end the ninth inning.
His teammates made Nick Senzel run out of dugout first in top of first. He’ll bat second after Giants fail to score in first. pic.twitter.com/nPz4Pa4bgI— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) May 3, 2019
Bell isn’t sure if Senzel will continue hitting in the No. 2 spot — he hit there in part because Eugenio Suarez took a planned day off — but he expects him to be a regular in the lineup not only this season but for years to come. Senzel turns 24 in June.
“When we look at Nick, we look at somebody who’s going to be a part of this team and a part of this organization hopefully for a long time and contribute for many years,” Bell said. “Of course, it’s great to get off to a good start. We expect that. He’s ready. He’s healthy. At the same time, I’m excited to look back 10 years from now, saying, ‘Wow, look at what this guy’s done.’ That’s a way to keep it in perspective.”
Senzel should have plenty of perspective after an eventful four seasons in the minors. He overcame vertigo in 2017 and again in 2018, a broken finger that cost him much of the 2018 season and most recently a sprained ankle that postponed his 2019 debut.
“He’s a tough kid,” said Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams. “We knew that about him at Tennessee back when we were watching him play in college. He muscled through all of this the way you would want him to respond. The first time he got injured last year and missed a significant period of time, it took a lot more out of him than it did as time went on. The setbacks he suffered this year, he hit them head on. He showed up the next morning in the training room ready to go.”
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