It took one game to amplify how much both players improved the Reds’ roster. It was Dietrich’s pinch-hit three-run home run in the seventh inning that delivered a 5-3 victory over the Pirates on Opening Day at Great American Ball Park.
“I don’t think I could have written it up any better on Day 1,” said Dietrich, who spent the previous six seasons with the Marlins.
Pittsburgh had a 2-1 lead in the seventh when its rotation ace, Jameson Taillon, began to falter. José Peraza led off the inning with a first-pitch homer to left field, and Tucker Barnhart followed with a walk. Next was Iglesias with his second double of the day, pulled fair by inches down the left-field line to put two runners into scoring position.
Reliever Richard Rodriguez replaced Taillon to face Dietrich, and on a 2-1 fastball, Dietrich ripped a drive to right-center field that sailed into the first few rows of seats. The sellout crowd of 44,049 fans roared as Dietrich raised his arm between home and first base and pumped his fist as he circled the bases.
“What a huge home run for Derek,” Reds manager David Bell said. “I was really happy for him. It’s not easy pinch-hitting, and he’s had success doing it throughout his career. It’s obviously just a huge home run and a great way for him to start his career here in Cincinnati.”
When Dietrich returned to the dugout, he got a big chest bump from teammate Yasiel Puig and a loud reception from teammates. Fans demanded a curtain call, and Dietrich obliged for the first one of his career, tugging on the Reds emblem on the front of his jersey.
“I’ve only seen one on my side during my career,” he said. “I really didn’t know. I was taking it all in with the guys. Then they’re telling me, ‘Get up there! Get up there!’”
Dietrich felt it was going to be a homer when the ball left his bat.
“I was prepared for that pitch,” he said. “After playing in the role I’ve played for a few seasons, preparation is key. Knowing your opponents is just as important as knowing yourself and knowing what to expect from pitchers. You don’t always get what you’re looking for, but I’m glad that I did today.”
Iglesias provided Cincinnati’s first RBI of the season when he launched a Taillon pitch to the left-field wall in the second inning, scoring Peraza. The Reds signed Iglesias to be bench depth, but he became the starting shortstop after second baseman Scooter Gennett sustained a right groin injury on Friday that will keep him out for two to three months. Bell decided to move Peraza from shortstop to second base and get Iglesias’ excellent defense at shortstop.
“To be in the situation where we could have a player like Jose Iglesias step in, it put us in a much better situation than we would have been,” Bell said. “Then Derek Dietrich adds such a good player off the bench. Having someone like that, who’s had success pinch-hitting and being a role player, he’s going to contribute a lot this year.”
In 2018, the Reds opened with a 3-18 record that would doom their season. The roles that Dietrich and Iglesias have this year belonged to Phil Gosselin and Cliff Pennington then. By May, both players were no longer with the team.
During the offseason, the Reds made several significant moves that added Puig and Matt Kemp to the outfield and Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark and Alex Wood for the rotation. They hoped for a fast start to generate momentum and excitement. Yet it was the two later moves -- bringing Deitrich and Iglesias -- that made Game 1 a celebration.
“I think we’ve brought in the right guys that have won before and have been in big games,” said David Hernandez, who earned the save by getting Corey Dickerson to ground out after a tense 12-pitch at-bat. “I think over the course of the season, that will rub off on the guys. I think that’s key for us to try and get off to a good start and show the guys we have what it takes to win some ballgames.”