Iglesias' defensive wizardry on display in desert

Bell describes shortstop's excellence with glove as 'an art form'

September 14th, 2019

PHOENIX -- Throughout the 2019 season, Jose Iglesias has shown the Reds not only how his skills at shortstop are super dependable, but also artistic. The only question is whether the soon-to-be free agent can be brought back so he can continue to dazzle on defense.

A pair of two-run home runs by Joey Votto and Josh VanMeter powered Cincinnati’s 4-3 win over the D-backs on Friday at Chase Field. But Iglesias’ defense was literally the difference maker when he made a diving stop to save a run in the fifth inning.

“That’s my job, right? Just try to save runs and try to make plays for my team,” Iglesias said.

Iglesias’ first great play of the night didn’t save a run, but it temporarily defied gravity. With one out in the bottom of the second inning with Luis Castillo pitching, Adam Jones scorched a line drive that appeared headed to left field. But Iglesias made a big leap, fully extended his glove hand and secured the catch.

“My instincts took over,” Iglesias said. “I want to give the best effort for my teammates each and every night.”

According to Statcast, Jones’ exit velocity on the pitch was 106 mph and the play had an .820 expected-batting average.

“I didn’t know Jose could jump like that,” said VanMeter, who gave the Reds a 4-1 lead with his homer to right field against Mike Leake in the fifth. “It was really impressive. Once again in a big spot. He did his thing tonight.”

Castillo became the first Reds starter since Johnny Cueto and Alfredo Simon in 2014 to notch 15 wins in a season. Castillo didn’t always have an easy time as he pitched five innings with two earned runs on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts.

Two-out trouble found Castillo in the fourth and fifth innings. In the fifth, Castillo issued two walks and Eduardo Escobar’s RBI single to right field cut the Reds’ lead to 4-2. 

Christian Walker followed with a laser to the left side. From the back edge of the dirt, Iglesias made a spectacular diving catch to his right to rob Walker of a hit and and flipped to Freddy Galvis at second base for the inning-ending force play.

Statcast data had Walker’s exit velocity at 110.6 mph. Castillo clapped into his glove after both of Iglesias’ plays. 

“It’s special. For us as pitchers, we love it,” said Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen, who delivered two scoreless innings of relief. “We love the defense behind us. I love knowing that when a ground ball is hit anywhere around him, there’s a pretty good chance of the guy getting thrown out at first.”

Iglesias, who was signed to a Minor League contract after Spring Training opened, had languished on the free-agent market without a deal. Originally expected to be a role player from the bench, he became a regular at the end of camp and is earning $2.5 million with an additional $1 million in bonus money based on games played.

Incumbent shortstop Jose Peraza was moved to second base when Scooter Gennett suffered a serious groin injury and missed three months. Gennett returned, but Iglesias remained locked in at shortstop. His deal has been one of the great bargains of baseball this season.

It likely won’t be that inexpensive if Iglesias hits the open market a second time. Last month, both sides expressed interest in his return. There’s been no sign of a deal getting done, yet, but Iglesias remained open to it.

“Absolutely, I love this group. We’ll see what happens,” Iglesias said.

Iglesias, 29, is batting .286/.312/.407 with 11 home runs and 53 RBIs in 136 games for Cincinnati. Meanwhile, there’s been highlight-reel-filling plays throughout the season that never get boring or taken for granted.

“He’s been such a big part of any success that we’ve had,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Just to count on somebody at that position to make all of the plays, and make spectacular ones and then being able to flip the ball to himself. It’s just the way he plays with freedom, and that allows him to make the spectacular play and not be tense. He’s in the flow of it. He loves it so much. He’s so locked in on defense. It’s nice to watch somebody do anything like that. It’s such an art form.”