Senzel's defense: 'It's all about the PitchCom, man'

April 11th, 2022

ATLANTA -- Nick Senzel's defense has really stood out through one Reds series vs. the Braves. The center fielder deferred some of the credit for the great catches he’s been making.

“It’s all about the PitchCom, man,” Senzel said on Sunday.

PitchCom is a device some catchers wear -- including on the Reds -- to call pitches and locations by pushing buttons rather than using hand signals that can be spotted by opponents. Besides the pitcher, three other fielders wear haptic sensors in their caps that will alert them to what’s coming with an automated voice that resembles Siri on an iPhone.

Senzel is one of the Cincinnati fielders who has been wearing it.

“It helps with just staying locked in and focused on the game,” Senzel said. “It helps with anticipation. That’s what I think.”

During Saturday’s 2-1 loss, Senzel made a spectacular running catch in right-center field to rob Alex Dickerson of an extra-base hit before he landed on the warning track.

“That was incredible. Behind home plate I had a good view of it, and I honestly didn’t think he was going to get there,” Reds catcher Aramis Garcia said. “[Dansby] Swanson came up to the plate and was impressed with that catch.”

According to Statcast, Senzel had a 5 percent probability of making the catch. He covered 84 feet with a 28.2 ft/sec sprint speed. He felt that PitchCom was the difference.

“You saw it with that catch. I was one split-second away from not making the play,” he said. “I’m trying to anticipate where I think he may hit it and that’s all it takes, a couple of feet, a couple of seconds. That’s why it’s so important.”

Senzel also made a pair of nice catches duringFriday's 7-6 Reds loss. In Sunday’s 6-3 win behind Hunter Greene, he almost made another long run and catch on an Austin Riley fourth inning drive but could not make the catch near the wall. Riley had a double.

It would be mistaken, however, to give all the credit to technology for Senzel’s play. Since the former top prospect was converted from an infielder to a center field ahead of his 2019 rookie year, he’s worked on his defense.

“We work hard in Spring Training and the offseason to make plays like that,” Senzel said. “Obviously, you want to make the routine ones but making those make you happy knowing all the work I put in out there.”

The issue keeping Senzel from succeeding consistently in the past has rarely been about effort. It’s mostly been about staying healthy. The 26-year-old missed the final 120 games of 2021 after he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to clean out damaged cartilage on May 21.

There were several injuries during Senzel’s rookie season, which included a torn labrum in his right shoulder that kept him out of the final 23 games. He missed 27 games in 2020 with COVID-19. Senzel has previously noted that one of his goals is to play at least 140 games in 2022.

A healthy offseason and camp helped lock Senzel in both offensively and defensively. Coming off a knee surgery, he didn’t worry he wouldn’t have the speed necessary to make the kind of plays he’s been making.

“I think any time you have an injury, human nature, you’d like to get back to where you were and don’t ever really fully know,” Senzel said. “I felt like once I went through rehab and got back home, I was going to be good to go. That was important to me.”

At the plate, Senzel is batting .143 through four games vs. the Braves but manager David Bell has liked the approach he’s seen. Originally projected to bat eighth, Bell moved Senzel up to sixth in the lineup.

“I feel good,” he said. “Obviously, I’ve missed a lot of time. Any time I can face these types of arms and this type of staff, it’s going to be good for me moving forward. I’m gaining confidence more and more every day, just enjoying the process and not trying to get too much results driven and just making sure I’m having good at-bats. I know over 162 games at the end, it will be good.”

If one goal is a high games total for the season, Senzel’s other goal is to win his first National League Gold Glove Award.

“I thought about it last year,” Senzel said. “I was getting more comfortable out there and felt like I have the speed to do it and have the reactions to do it. I knew I was working hard to transition as an outfielder and center fielder. I felt like if I kept working that it’s something I could do.”