Reds’ Winker on return from injury: ‘I can’t wait to play baseball again’

Outfielder was in Rookie of the Year conversation before shoulder injury

Jesse Winker smiled wryly when asked the most important lesson he’d learned in his rookie season.

“Not to get hurt,” he responded.

Winker had good reason for that response. The 25-year-old Cincinnati Reds outfielder was a candidate for the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award before undergoing season-ending surgery on July 31 to repair the torn labrum in his right shoulder.

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The Buffalo, N.Y., native and Orlando, Fla., resident was on hand Friday and Saturday for Redsfest, the franchise's annual two-day fan-oriented extravaganza at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati. Winker, who hits and throws left-handed, reported significant progress in his comeback from the procedure to repair the injury that ended his season when he went on the disabled list on July 26.

“My rehab will be over in a couple of weeks,” he said. “I’ll start swinging a bat on January 7. Everything’s gone perfectly. It could not have gone better.”

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That’s pretty much how Winker’s season was going before the injury went from nagging to disabling. When he went on the disabled list, his rankings among all NL players ranged from 11thwith a .299 batting average to second with a .405 on-base percentage. In between was a .358 batting average with runners in scoring position.

Among rookies, he ranked first with 49 walks, second in hitting and on-base percentage as well as second with 84 hits, 24 multi-hit games and tied for second with 43 runs batted in over 89 games.

He finished the season ranked tied for third among NL rookie leaders with four outfield assists.

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Winker collected at least one hit in 13 of his last 14 appearances, hitting .449 over that span, which included a 12-game hitting streak, which was tied for the longest by any NL rookie in 2018 and was the longest by a Reds rookie since Billy Hamilton’s 12-game streak in 2014.

Clearly, the 2012 supplemental first-round draft pick and 49thoverall selection was living up to his potential when his shoulder simply became too achy to continue. Instead, he had to change his focus to putting his injury behind him and getting ready for 2019. He was happy with his progress.

“My shoulder used to bother me after I did exercises,” he said. “It’s super-refreshing to work out and not have my shoulder killing me. It’s awesome.”

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Except for a couple of days at home for Thanksgiving and attending Redsfest, Winker has been working out at the Reds complex in Arizona with members of the team’s medical staff and a few teammates, including fellow outfielder Scott Schebler.

“Any time you can work out with your teammates, it’s great,” he said. “I love those guys. It’s a lot of fun. I really wanted to be out there. We have a great staff out there.”

What Winker really was looking forward to was getting back on the field and trying to string together a season’s worth of the two 2018 months – June and July – in which Cincinnati went a combined 28-22. That’s s .560 winning percentage that computes to 90 wins over a full season.

“Those two months were the most fun I’ve ever had in baseball,” he said. “We hope to do that for five or six months. That’s the goal. I’m really ready. I’m ready now, and it’s only November. I can’t wait to play baseball again.”

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