Cincinnati Reds: Moustakas finding his form?

Cincinnati Reds' Mike Moustakas (9) hits three-run home run against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Cincinnati Reds' Mike Moustakas (9) hits three-run home run against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Mike Moustakas got the Cincinnati Reds to pry open their checkbook.

Moustakas, who turns 32 years old on Friday, was the first of Cincinnati’s four eye-opening free agent signings between the end of the 2019 season and beginning of the 2020 campaign. The former Kansas City Royal, coming off a season during which he batted .254 with 35 home runs and 87 runs batted in with Milwaukee, signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Reds in early December. At the time, it was the largest free agent deal in Cincinnati franchise history, only to be matched later by the deal agreed to with Nick Castellanos.

After a rocky start to his Reds career that so far includes two stays on the injured list, the left-hander is showing signs of rounding into shape. Going into Thursday’s finale of a three-game series against the Cubs at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, he had at least one hit in five of his last six games, going 6-for-19 (.316) with three doubles and two home runs. The second of those two homers was a first inning, three-run shot of Chicago Cy Young Award-frontrunner Yu Darvish that produced all of Cincinnati’s offense in a 3-0 win on Wednesday.

“I’ve been hitting the ball hard and having good at bats,” he said before Thursday’s game. “Now, stuff is just falling for me. Over a 162-game season, you’re going to have stretches where you’re not getting extra-base hits or not getting on base or not hitting home runs. When you play against the best in the world, that’s how it goes. Right now, things are starting to fall. I’ve felt comfortable the last week-and-a-half and want to ride it to the end.”

Moustakas’s mini-run started during Cincinnati’s split of a doubleheader in Pittsburgh on September 4. He stroked a pinch-hit double in Game One before going 2-for-3 with a solo home run in Game Two.

“I kind of knew I haven’t been slugging as much as I usually do,” Moustakas said the next day. "I’ve hit some balls hard that for some reason there’s guys standing right where I’m hitting it at, and they’re just catching it. That’s baseball. That’s just how it goes sometimes, man.

“I felt like I’ve been putting together some pretty good at-bats, hitting the ball hard,” he added. “I just started finding some outfield grass now, and obviously that’s huge. Basically, just trying to do whatever I can to help us win ballgames, and obviously the numbers weren’t there but starting to find some holes and feel really good with where I’m at.”

Moustakas’s shot left the Reds with at least runs in just one of their last 24 innings. A hot Moustakas would come in handy as the Reds try to shake off the malaise that has plagued them for most of the season and squeeze into post-season play for the first time since 2013. The effort is scheduled to continue Friday with the first of a three-game series against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

After waiting for four months to get the 2020 season under way, Moustakas burst out of the gate with three hits, including a two-run home run, and four RBIs in the Reds' 7-1 win over Detroit in the season-opener on July 24 at Great American Ball Park.

He quickly endeared himself to Reds fans, including the raucous Great American Ball Park grounds crew, members of which started wearing faux moose antlers whenever he stepped to the plate.

His year almost immediately went south from there. He spent July 26-28 on the injured list for an undisclosed reason. He was hitting .238 with two home runs and to RBIs through Aug. 4 when he again was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left quadriceps bruise.

He also was dealing with his transition from third base, which he’d played for most of his career, to second. He’d started easing into the position in 2019, when he made 47 appearances at the position for the Brewers.

Since his return on Aug. 19, he was hitting .235 with four doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs. Overall, the 6-foot, 225-pound Moustakas went into Thursday’s game batting .236 with four doubles, four home runs and 14 RBIs in 29 games.

“Just kind of the ebbs and flows of the season,” manager David Bell said before Thursday’s game. “He’s still been kind of trying to get into a nice groove at the plate and seeing the ball better – just minor adjustments you through in any season. It’s also getting hits and results. He’s a veteran player. We believe he’s getting better as a hitter. He got off to a bit of a slow start – first month, and he missed some time. We know he’s going to provide offense for us.”