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Akiyama hit .301 with 20 home runs and 12 stolen bases and an on-base percentage of .392 last season with the Seibu Lions. He played his entire nine-year career in Japan until signing with the Reds.
“The thing that’s so impressive about him is just his professionalism and his dedication to his craft,” Reds manager David Bell said. “The whole time we were off, he stayed dedicated and was still approaching it every day as if he was going to get the call to report. He’s going to be ahead of the game. It’s very refreshing how he goes about it. He clearly loves the game. He also has a great outlook not only on enjoying the game but seeing it as a true craft and profession. That rubs off on everyone. He’s in a good place. He’s happy. He loves Cincinnati so far.”
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Akiyama said he practiced for three hours a day five days a week in Los Angeles, waiting for baseball to return. He visited Great American Ball Park in January when the Reds introduced him at a press conference but didn’t get to hit there until this week.
The Reds held their first team workout Friday.
“I think I was able to relax and hit comfortably — more than expected,” Akiyama said. “Being able to hit in a ballpark without a roof has been good. I think by the time I get used to it, the season is going to be starting.”
Akiyama has mostly played center field in his career. Senzel earned the majority of the playing time there last season (92 starts), though Winker and Ervin also have plenty of experience at the position.
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“I just need to prepare myself,” Akiyama said. “I know that Senzel is coming back, and it’s going to be a competitive position. I’m just willing to play whatever position David (Bell) tells me to do. During the season, I just need to keep competing.”
Bell said Akiyama’s experience makes it easier for the Reds to move him to different spots in the outfield, while Senzel is relatively new to the outfield. That doesn’t mean Akiyama won’t play center field at all, Bell said, because he will, but he could also play left and right.
Any of the outfielders could also see time at designated hitter. The majority of the designated hitter at-bats, Bell said, will go to outfielders.
“The depth in our outfield is strong,” Bell said. “The designated hitter allows us to take advantage of that.”