One of the Reds’ many problems while losing 18 of their first 22 games was defense, especially around second base.
Jose Peraza, back at shortstop as the heir to 2017 All-Star Zack Cozart after losing his second base position to Scooter Gennett last season, had committed just one error in his first 21 games, but he seemed uncomfortable. Grounders that fans were used to see being caught instead were leaking through to the outfield.
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Recently, though, Peraza has shown signs that the more he plays, the more comfortable and confident he feels.
“I think he’s playing great,” Gennett said before Tuesday’s game against Atlanta. “He’s been playing that position with more confidence. After switching back and forth, I’m really impressed with how quickly he’s picked it back up again.”
Going into this season, Peraza had started 82 major league games at second back and 77 at shortstop.
Peraza, who turns only 24 on April 30, also was becoming more productive offensively. Going into Tuesday’s game, he had hit .292 since starting the season 0-for-12, pushing his overall average up to .247.
Interim manager Jim Riggleman credits Peraza’s defensive improvement to working with infield coach Freddie Benavides.
“He’s playing good,” Riggleman said of Peraza, acquired from the Dodgers as part of the December 2015 three-team trade in which third baseman Todd Frazier was sent to the White Sox. “He’s an extremely hard worker. I know Freddie’s had to tone him back a little bit. It’s a long season, but I think he’s played fine.”
Riggleman believes shortstops are at a disadvantage because they usually are compared to those who played at the highest level, such as Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel. In Cincinnati, shortstops follow in the footsteps of Roy McMillan and Leo Cardenas and Dave Concepcion and Barry Larkin.
“There’s such excellence that to call anybody average is an insult,” Riggleman said. “If you’re an average major league shortstop, you’re pretty good. He’s really swinging the bat and running the bases. He’s a baseball player.”
Cincinnati’s five-man bench allowed Riggleman to make a move that proved decisive in Monday’s 10-4 win over the Braves.
With the bases loaded and nobody out in the sixth inning of a tie game, he sent right-handed-hitting Phil Gosselin up to bat against left-hander Sam Freeman. Braves’ manager Brian Snitker replaced Freeman with right-hander Peter Moylan, prompting Riggleman to take down Gosselin and send up left-hander Jesse Winker, who delivered a tie-breaking, run-scoring single.
“The sixth inning is a little earlier than I’d like to do it, but with five players on the bench, it’s easier than with four,” Riggleman said. “With four players, it’s really tough, especially if one of them is a catcher. That makes it tough to maneuver for the rest of the game.”
Tucker Barnhart didn’t have anybody particular in mind as he banged a black Rawlings catcher’s mitt with a bat on the floor in front of his Great American Ball Park home clubhouse cubicle.
The Reds catcher simply was going through the process of breaking in a couple of new gloves. The process is lengthy.
“This one I started on in January and all through spring training,” he said, holding up a third black glove. “I’m hoping it’ll last me close to two years. Rawlings has pretty good leather.”
That means the new gloves might not see the field until 2019.
Barnhart uses a leather conditioner to help with the breaking in process, which also includes him flexing the glove with his hands.
“It’s getting there,” he said.
Sal Romano’s right hand was sore on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after he speared Ozzie Albies’ sharp one-hopper with his bare hand and threw him out at first.
Romano’s approach is not recommended.
“We literally talk about it in spring training,” Riggleman said. “The thing is, with the way shifts are, if you let it go, there’s probably going to be a middle infielder there, but its competition. It’s instinct. What you don’t want to have happen is he doesn’t get all of it and it dribbles off into no-man’s land.”
Trading Kevins: Before Tuesday’s game, the Reds reinstated right-hander Kevin Schackelford from the 10-day disabled list and designated right-hander Kevin Quackenbush for assignment, leaving the 40-man roster at 39. Schackelford was sidelined since March 29 with a right forearm strain. Quackenbush was 0-1 with an 11.00 earned-run average in 10 games.
Left-hander Brandon Finnegan (0-2) is scheduled to make his third start since coming off the disabled list in Wednesday’s 6:40 p.m. game against Atlanta. Finnegan is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two career games, both of them starts, against the Braves.
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