Senzel's simple goal: stay on the field

With new mindset, CF believes production will follow if he's healthy

March 18th, 2022

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Nick Senzel hopes that the days of being a fixture in the trainer’s room are behind him for good. Injuries have largely defined the Reds center fielder’s career, but there is optimism that will change in 2022.

“My only goal is to play 140-150 games,” Senzel said before Friday’s game vs. the Guardians during which he hit a two-run double in the fourth inning. “I’m not going to really set anything beyond that because it’s really important to me. I know it sounds like something that’s pretty easily attainable. Obviously, to me, it holds a little more special place if I can attain that. If I do that, good things will happen on the field.”

Senzel, 27, missed the final 120 games of 2021 after he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to clean out damaged cartilage on May 21. Things got complicated, however.

Initially expected back around the All-Star break, Senzel’s rehab lingered into August, and he went on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Louisville. When he was believed healthy, the Reds activated him from the 60-day injured list and optioned him to Louisville. It was then that Senzel complained of knee pain.

Cincinnati reversed the option four days later when fluid was discovered inside the knee. Senzel spent the rest of the season in Arizona rehabilitating.

“I don’t really want to go into it. I’d rather just put that behind me, to be honest with you,” Senzel said, when asked about what happened. “It was both sides trying to get back and I wasn’t able to.”

During the offseason, Senzel kept the rehab going into January at the University of Tennessee in his hometown of Knoxville.

Senzel batted .252/.323/.315 with one home run in 36 games last season. Since his big league debut in 2019, he’s missed a large chunk of playing time because of injuries. His rookie season 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.

“A lot of it has been the first adversity or obstacles I’ve faced during my baseball career,” Senzel said. “Everything went relatively smoothly, and then you get up to the big leagues, it’s one thing after another, injury-wise or whatever it may be. I’m trying to take those as learning moments instead of negatives.”

Off the field, Senzel has found stability. He got married and he and his wife, Emily, welcomed a baby -- Nicholas II -- in December. With the changes, came a new outlook.

“How things are aligning off the field for me is pretty special,” he said. “I’m really thankful and blessed to be married and have a son. It puts things in perspective. You can’t take what we do here for granted. It’s very precious. Not everyone gets to do it. I am very fortunate. For me, it’s trying to enjoy it more and enjoy the moment instead of stressing about things I can’t control. That’s helped me with that.

“It helps when you go home, and you get to see the family and baby. It eases your mind. It’s a sense of relaxation and calm that comes with it. I think it helps translate when I play ball.”

Senzel, an infielder in college and the Minors, made six starts at second base and two at third base last season. Entering this season, the plan is to keep him in center field.

Manager David Bell has renewed confidence in Senzel after meeting with him as camp opened. Bell believes he can boost a team in transition after multiple trades this week.

"[My confidence in him is] high because of the time I've spent with him,” Bell said. “His mindset, he's learned a lot -- which we all continue to do -- but sometimes when things don't go your way, especially with injuries and things are out of your control, it forces you to grow and learn. He's demonstrated that. Just in our conversations, he's matured in every way. He's ready to go. He really believes that this is the year that he's going to stay healthy and he's excited to play a big role on this team.”

Senzel appreciated knowing the team has faith in him still being its everyday center fielder.

“During the troubles and adversity, you feel like they do [lose confidence],” he said. “But now coming from a different perspective, I am here, and they want the best for me. Obviously, I want to help the team the best way that I can. I know what they expect of me. I know what I expect of myself. That’s what we both want.”