De La Cruz ready to spring into regular-season action

March 20th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- is drawing walks. He is hitting balls to the opposite field, both left-handed and right-handed. By the looks of it, the Reds shortstop's offseason hitting adjustments have brought positive results.

De La Cruz is batting .282 with an .878 OPS in 15 games. Of his 11 hits, the 22-year-old logged three doubles, one triple and one home run. He's also drawn seven walks while striking out 18 times.

“I feel really good," De La Cruz said via interpreter Jorge Merlos. "Obviously, there are going to be some days where the results are not going to be there as much as we want to. But I feel ready for the season.”

De La Cruz had an eight-game hitting streak that ended on Sunday. He went 0-for-9 in his past three games, including an 0-for-2 with two strikeouts, two walks, a stolen base and a run scored in Wednesday afternoon's 3-1 split-squad win over the White Sox.

“The season tells us everything we need to know, but I like what he’s doing offensively and defensively," manager David Bell said.

Especially after the Reds have been hit this week by injuries to center fielder TJ Friedl and second baseman Matt McLain, De La Cruz is an extremely pivotal player in the Cincinnati lineup.

As a rookie in 2023, De La Cruz batted .325 with an .887 OPS over his first 30 games and then .191 with a .627 OPS over the final 68 games. Overall, he struck out 144 times in 427 plate appearances (33.7 percent).

After the season, De La Cruz went home to the Dominican Republic to start working on improvements.

Under the guidance of hitting coach Joel McKeithan, who made personal visits to De La Cruz in the Dominican and Miami, De La Cruz shortened his leg kick before swinging and focused on pitch selection and waiting longer before committing to a swing.

The opposite-field-hit-balls -- even those for outs -- are showing that his patience is paying off.

"Getting walks and swinging at pitches that I want to swing at, swinging at my pitches," De La Cruz said. "I’m letting the pitcher do whatever he needs to do so I can get on base.

“In all aspects, I’ve felt really confident. Defensively, I’m more comfortable than I’ve been in the past. Batting, I’m just ready to swing at my pitch.”

The Reds open the season vs. the Nationals in just over one week on March 28 at Great American Ball Park. De La Cruz has no doubt that his hitting approach will sustain him in the regular season.

“I think it just started when I was at home … that I knew I was ready," De La Cruz said. "The stuff I’ve done at Spring Training kind of proves I’ve been ready. I’m just ready to get the season going.”