CINCINNATI -- Reds manager David Bell wanted to push the envelope in 2019 with how he used reliever Michael Lorenzen as an outfielder, but he wound up being mostly incremental and experimental.
“What the last month did is confirmed that I held him back too much before that point,” Bell said. “I don't have any regrets, but at the same time, it showed that this guy is an elite athlete. He's capable of helping us in more ways than just on the mound, which I think I had to see it to believe it. As much as I talked about giving him that opportunity, there [was] some hesitation there.
“So for me to go through that process of putting him in those positions and seeing him have success, that was important for me as well as it was for him.”
Over his 53 plate appearances last season, Lorenzen batted .208/.283/.313 with one homer and six RBIs. He logged 89 innings over 29 games as an outfielder, with 18 games in center, eight in left and four in right. He also appeared in 13 games as a pinch-runner and six as a pinch-hitter.
Before he was drafted by the Reds in 2013, Lorenzen was a center fielder and closer in college for Cal State-Fullerton. Professionally, he was initially used exclusively as a starting pitcher before he found more success as a reliever. But he never gave up on making use of himself as a hitter and outfielder.
With Bell’s eyes opened to how he could make more use of Lorenzen’s two-way skills, Lorenzen doesn’t plan to have much deviation from his usual offseason hitting routine.
“My whole mindset was to prepare so the opportunity did present itself that I’m ready,” said Lorenzen, who will turn 28 on Jan. 4. “It wasn’t something to where now I was like, ‘Oh, OK, I’ve got to hurry up and ready.’ I’ve always been doing it. I’m just going to keep doing what I was doing.”
Now that he’s logged more than 100 at-bats over his career, the experience permits Lorenzen to narrow his previously broad approach to hitting.
“I’m able to see what I can work on and what I can get better at. It’s hard to know that when you have very little at-bats,” he said.
As a pitcher in a career-high 73 games last season, Lorenzen had a 2.92 ERA and seven saves over 83 1/3 innings. He was largely used a setup option in the later innings but his ability to hit allows Bell to use him earlier and longer on the mound. Lorenzen also closed some when Raisel Iglesias was either unavailable or struggling.
Normally, Lorenzen waits until after Redsfest the first weekend of December to begin a throwing program. That’s changed this winter.
“I usually show up to Spring Training not feeling 100 percent, so this year I’ve started earlier,” Lorenzen said. “I’ve already been throwing, and I feel really good already. I’m not pushing it by any means. But I feel right now just as a good as I’d usually feel by the end of January. That’s good news.”
Lorenzen has seven career home runs, including four in 2018, while being a .235 hitter (31-for-132). On Sept. 4 last year, he joined Babe Ruth (1921) as the only Modern Era Major League players to earn a win as a pitcher, hit a home run and play the outfield in the same game. Lorenzen entered that game against the Phillies in the seventh inning and blew the save. Batting for himself in the eighth, he hit a two-run homer as Cincinnati claimed an 8-5 victory.
Bell was still careful over Lorenzen's usage over the final month. He restricted Lorenzen’s starts to when he wasn’t available to pitch. On Sept. 27, at Pittsburgh, Lorenzen started in center field and moved to the mound to pitch the seventh and eighth innings. He went back to center for the ninth inning and was in line for the victory until Iglesias blew the save on a two-run, walk-off homer by Kevin Newman for a 5-4 defeat.
“I still don't know for sure how it's going to work out, but I do know that I'm going to do a better job of not holding him back and still being aware of his physical health and all that but find ways to allow him to contribute in more ways,” Bell said.