Reds shuffle lineup; Akiyama activated

May 7th, 2021

The formal roster move the Reds made on Friday was as expected -- first baseman Joey Votto was placed on the 10-day injured list with a fractured left thumb and outfielder Shogo Akiyama was activated from the IL. 

But a lot more happened to the look of the team beyond that one move. Votto’s absence created a tectonic shift at several positions as manager David Bell and the club maneuvered the lineup. For Friday’s game against Cleveland, Mike Moustakas moved from third base to first base. 

“Going over and playing a new position again, it’s always good. I’m excited. I like first base. It’ll be fun to get back over there, for sure,” said Moustakas, who played 10 games at first base last season with eight starts. “I just want to win, so whatever I can do to help us win ballgames is what I’m going to do.” 

Votto is expected to miss 3-4 weeks, but Bell didn’t plan on having only Moustakas manning first base. Alex Blandino and Kyle Farmer will get chances and so could both of the team’s catchers -- Tucker Barnhart and Tyler Stephenson, who played one inning at first base on Tuesday against the White Sox. Stephenson did extra work at first base before batting practice on Friday. 

Less likely -- but possible -- first base candidates are left fielder Jesse Winker and shortstop Eugenio Suárez. 

“I think we’ll take it one day at a time,” Bell said. “We have players who are versatile, and we have players, more importantly, that are willing to really do whatever it takes to open up possibilities to put our best team on the field each night.” 

Bell moved Nick Senzel from center field to second base, Suárez back to third base -- where he played from 2016-20 -- and Farmer to shortstop on Friday. 

“Geno showed that he played a solid shortstop. That’s certainly not off the table,” Bell said. “I’d like to keep that going. There’s a high likelihood that when Joey comes back, we would go back to the way it was.” 

Moustakas approached Bell about his willingness to play first base shortly after Votto was diagnosed with the fracture from a hit by pitch in Wednesday's 1-0 10-inning win over the White Sox.

“You want guys, other players, you want people to see that, because I think it's a good example of what really it's all about,” Bell said. “It shouldn't surprise any of us that Moose sees it that way, because that's just how he is. It is maybe even more important when it's an older, veteran player that's had a lot of success and ... has stepped up to be a leader on the team, I think it goes even further.” 

Akiyama returns 

Akiyama, who strained his left hamstring on March 13 in a Spring Training game, was happy to be back with the team. He was 1-for-9 in two rehab assignment games with Triple-A Louisville and also played in alternate site scrimmages. 

“My body feels great,” Akiyama said via translator Luke Shinoda. “I was able to prepare for this, and I was ready to come up anytime, but with Joey’s [injury], might have gotten [here] slightly earlier, but it’s great to be back.”

Akiyama batted ninth and played left field on Friday as Winker moved to the designated hitter spot, and Tyler Naquin started in center field. 

“He had a significant injury with his hamstring. He worked really hard to get back," Bell said of Akiyama. “It could have taken much longer, really. He’s 100 percent ready to go. To his credit, he worked really hard. He was anxious. He believed he was going to get back soon and sure enough, he was right on schedule -- but the front end of the schedule that we were hoping for. It’s great to have him back. He adds a very experienced, successful Major League professional bat and defender to our team.” 

After a slow start to his first season in the big leagues in 2020, Akiyama batted .245/.357/.297 in 54 games. But he led the Reds with a .317 average and .456 on-base percentage in September and was viewed as a key reason the Reds got hot down the stretch and made the playoffs. 

“Last September is a long time ago,” Akiyama said. “Personally, I just feel like I’m restarting, starting from the beginning again. I just hope to rack up those stats again and be able to participate and prepare each day to get those results.” 

No Pujols for Reds 

Some media outlets have speculated that Albert Pujols could land in Cincinnati with a temporary void at first base. Pujols, a likely future Hall of Famer, was designated for assignment by the Angels on Thursday. However, the Reds have no plans to bring in the 41-year-old slugger. 

“That's not something that we have discussed to my knowledge,” Bell said. “I know this for a fact, we believe in the guys we have, and I don't anticipate anything like that.”