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Senzel faces center-field challenge head on

@m_sheldon
February 24, 2019

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Reds top prospect Nick Senzel and outfielder Jesse Winker have yet to get into the lineup through the first two Cactus League games. But that’s about to change. Senzel will start in center field for the first time on Monday when the Reds play the Mariners in

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Reds top prospect Nick Senzel and outfielder Jesse Winker have yet to get into the lineup through the first two Cactus League games. But that’s about to change.

Senzel will start in center field for the first time on Monday when the Reds play the Mariners in Peoria, Ariz. Competing for the starting job as a non-roster player, he is ranked as the organization’s No. 1 prospect and No. 6 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects.

“New position, first time I’m playing it,” Senzel said. “Just excited to get out there and get in the game setting. You can do all the drills and stuff you want, but games are a little different. I’m just excited to actually play in a game again. I haven’t played in a game in a long time.”

Senzel, 23, was limited to 44 games with Triple-A Louisville in 2018 after a fractured right index finger in June required season-ending surgery.

Winker’s rookie season in Cincinnati ended in July when he needed right shoulder surgery on his non-throwing arm.

“With him and Wink, they’re completely 100 percent good to go, ready to go,” Reds manager David Bell said. “We gave them a couple of extra days of live BP. It’s nothing to do with their health but just so they’ve done it before going into a game. They’re completely ready, right on track.”

Winker, 25, is tentatively slated to start in center field on Tuesday vs. the Giants.

The Reds had Senzel, a career infielder, learn the outfield during the fall Instructional League to increase his versatility and potentially solve the problem of opening a spot for him to play in the big leagues. Once Billy Hamilton was non-tendered, Senzel became a candidate for the regular center-field spot along with Scott Schebler and possibly Yasiel Puig. Schebler started in center field on Sunday's 14-2 win against vs. the Angels.

During camp, Senzel has been working with outfield coach Jeff Pickler and instructor Eric Davis on the finer points of center field.

“I’m really not making too big of a deal with it,” Senzel said of his upcoming spring debut. “I just think because it’s a new position for me, people make it a big deal. I know I’ve put in a lot of time and work into the position to learn. Just excited to see how it plays out in a game setting. I’m ready to go.”

Gutierrez looks good

Ranked No. 7 among MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Reds Prospects, right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez started vs. the Angels on Sunday and delivered one scoreless inning with one hit. It was a two-out infield single by Albert Pujols to the hole that diving shortstop Jose Peraza made a nice play to stop.

“I felt really good,” Gutierrez said via translator Julio Morillo. “This was my first outing in big league Spring Training, so I know it’s a big thing for me. But I was able to handle the situation very well and I felt very comfortable out there.”

Gutierrez, who made all 27 of his starts last season for Double-A Pensacola, was not nervous for Sunday's Cactus League debut.

“I was pretty settled, emotionally,” Gutierrez said. “I’m used to big situations. Back in Cuba, I used to pitch with a lot of people in the stadium. I came with one goal: trying to make my pitches.”

Injury report

Backup catcher Curt Casali, who had left hip surgery in October, is still limited and has yet to see Cactus League action.

“I would anticipate seeing Curt in games by mid-March at the latest. The plan puts him ready to go, on time, for the season,” Bell said. “It’s just going to be a little delay, but we’ll still have enough time to get him in plenty of games, get plenty of at-bats by Opening Day.”

Pitcher Robert Stephenson (right shoulder inflammation) is not yet scheduled to pitch in a game.

“He’s getting closer. He’s progressing. Nothing but positive reports,” Bell said.

Keeping score

During Saturday’s Cactus League opener vs. Cleveland, Bell’s kids -- 12-year-old daughter Brogan and 6-year-old son Gus – could be seen in their seats at Goodyear Ballpark, both keeping score for all nine innings.

“My daughter likes to do that. She’s really into the game,” Bell said. “The fact that [Gus] did it the whole game blows my mind.”

Up next

In Monday’s 3:10 p.m. ET game vs. Seattle, left-hander Alex Wood will make his debut in a Reds uniform. Also expected to see action are Tyler Mahle, Michael Lorenzen and Wandy Peralta.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.