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Disciplined changes yield big results for Senzel

Rookie one of three players to go yard in win over Marlins
@m_sheldon
August 28, 2019

MIAMI -- Several weeks ago, Reds rookie Nick Senzel and hitting coaches Turner Ward and Donnie Ecker discussed changing his hitting approach, and the center fielder embraced the advice they gave. A very rough August tested that resolve, creating doubt and discomfort at the plate. Then nights like Tuesday happen.

MIAMI -- Several weeks ago, Reds rookie Nick Senzel and hitting coaches Turner Ward and Donnie Ecker discussed changing his hitting approach, and the center fielder embraced the advice they gave. A very rough August tested that resolve, creating doubt and discomfort at the plate.

Then nights like Tuesday happen. Senzel reached base four times and contributed a home run and three RBIs as the Reds took an 8-5 victory over the Marlins. He came in batting .195 in August, but he reached safely in seven on his last eight plate appearances over two games at Miami. Changing midseason at the big league level is no easy feat, especially for a heralded player who has been a top prospect since he was the second overall pick in the 2016 Draft.

Box score

“It’s extremely hard. I think, more or less, harder mentally than it is physically,” Senzel said. “But physically, it’s hard because I’ve hit a certain way my whole life. I want to be the best. I think I have to do this in order to do that. It was just more frustrating. I felt like I wasn’t helping my team as much as I should’ve. That was probably the most frustrating part about it.”

Cincinnati’s leadoff hitter, Senzel was hit by a Caleb Smith pitch to open the game. He scored when Eugenio Suárez hit his 37th homer of the season and 13th in the first inning. In the sixth inning with the Reds ahead by two runs, Senzel hit a first pitch from Tyler Kinley to left field for a two-run homer, his 11th of the season. An RBI single in the seventh offered more breathing room.

“The last two nights have been really nice nights for Nick, a big step in the right direction,” Cincinnati manager David Bell said. “He’s working so hard. He’s having a good year, first of all. First-year player, he’s made some adjustments and he continues to work through it. The last two nights, it’s really started to pay off. I think maybe looked the last two nights as good as he has all year.”

Working with Ward and Ecker, Senzel went to a more open batting stance and began standing taller. He also added a leg kick as he starter to swing. It helped him see the ball better, but he struggled to produce.

“I got stuck in between,” Senzel said. “I see the ball better how I am now vs. how I was. Obviously, the results weren’t coming with what I was doing, and I was like, ‘What do I do here? I see the ball better this way, but I’m not getting hits.’”

That led to second-guessing as Senzel wondered if he should scrap the changes.

Senzel was batting a season-high .285 on Aug. 2, and he was down nearly 20 points to slashing .267/.326/.443 overall since his much-anticipated big league debut on May 3.

Bell, who dropped Senzel to eighth in the batting order a couple of times, including Monday, saw him fighting himself mentally. He gave him two days out of the starting lineup on Saturday and Sunday to regroup while working on his swing behind the scenes.

“I was just stuck feeling sorry for myself. My confidence was a little down,” Senzel said. “I’ve never been the type of player I’ve been. I feel like I can do almost everything. When stuff like that happened, I think it’s how you react. I got to clear my head in Pittsburgh with a couple of days off there. I think it helped, for sure.”

Reds catcher Curt Casali, who tied the game with a fourth-inning home run and put his team ahead in the fifth with a two-run single, credited Senzel for his willingness to change.

“It’s scary to change things in the big leagues because it’s so hard to get here,” Casali said. “You get here doing one thing, that usually is successful. Then pitchers make adjustments to you. That happens every single time you come up. It’s happened to me. It’s just about how you meet that challenge. Are you the one that will set the tone and make the change before the pitchers do? Or are you going to just sit back and hope they make mistakes over and over? Big league pitchers just don’t do that.

“He’s still probably fairly uncomfortable up there, but sometimes all it takes is a night like this to get you over that hump. When Senzel starts contributing the way we know he’s capable of, we’ve got a scary team.”

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.