Moose relishing '21 clubhouse camaraderie

Veteran enters second season in Cincy healthy, hungry for wins

February 25th, 2021

As a player who values clubhouse culture, camaraderie and relationships, Reds second baseman Mike Moustakas didn’t get to experience as much as he would have liked during his first season with Cincinnati.

The pandemic stopped Spring Training last March and forced a shortening of the 2020 season to 60 games. Protocols in the clubhouse and away from the ballpark limited player interaction. Add in his own nagging injuries and a dip in performance and Moustakas felt like the year was a big incomplete.

“It was just a weird, different season,” said Moustakas, who is entering the second season of the four-year, $64 million contract that he signed as a free agent in December 2019.

Heralded as a veteran leader from his days with the Royals and Brewers, Moustakas quickly earned respect from Reds players. But there were limitations; he wasn’t the only new player. The club, which finished 31-29, also added Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama, among other free agents.

“We had a lot of new pieces and parts that we tried to put together, and we didn’t get that full Spring Training in and that full 162 games to really get to know each other,” Moustakas said. “From my past experiences, one of my favorite things I was able to do was go to dinner with guys and hang out and get to know guys off the field and away from the field, away from the clubhouse. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that.”

Moustakas, 32, batted .230/.331/.468 with eight home runs, 27 RBIs and 108 OPS+ over 44 games. The three-time All-Star missed time on the injured list, including 10 days with a left quadriceps bruise. He also dealt with a left foot contusion from being hit by a pitch in September and missed three days in the COVID-19 protocol from a false positive test in July.

“It definitely factored into it. I’m not going to be one to sit here and make excuses for my performance on the field,” Moustakas said. “If I’m on the field, that means in my mind that I’m 100 percent ready to go. Last year, I didn’t play as well as I wanted to play and I think that goes from offensively, top to bottom. We didn’t do as well as we wanted to do offensively.

"Again, 60 games, short season. Who knows what could have happened in the other 102 games? That being said, we learned a lot. We’re going to use what we learned and all of those failures last year and we’re going to apply them to this year.”

Once things got right for Moustakas on the field, the club also seemed to move in the right direction. He led the club in September with a .914 OPS and eight doubles.

Moustakas also hit six home runs over his final 20 games, while Cincinnati went 13-7 and reached the postseason.

“With Moose -- adding in the injuries, new team, pressure of wanting to come in and do as much as possible right away -- I think he did a great job of navigating that,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He’s another player that -- who he wants to be and needs to be and who we know he is as a player, all that came through at the end of the year, the last few weeks, even the last month. He got into a place [where] he was comfortable and healthy and contributing. When he started playing well, his experience in those situations really came up big for our team. He loves it. He’s been there before. He’s really driven by that.”

Cincinnati was not an active club in making offseason additions and subtracted a few players. In a National League Central division that appears wide open, Moustakas likes where his team is after getting a chance to be in camp for a couple of days.

“It’s the same group of guys that got to know each other last year,” Moustakas said. “Now we’re more comfortable going into a full season to be able to go out there and lean on each other. If one guy is not having a good day or good week, another guy can pick him up and things like that. And that’s what happens throughout the course of a season that we weren’t able to experience last year. That would be my favorite thing we’ve got going on in camp.”