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Senzel up to task in center field

@m_sheldon
May 11, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO -- When it comes to his first week-plus as a Major League center fielder, Reds rookie Nick Senzel appears to be passing the early eye test. The data has also backed up what’s been seen to this point. “He’s played well. He’s made plays,” Reds manager David Bell

SAN FRANCISCO -- When it comes to his first week-plus as a Major League center fielder, Reds rookie Nick Senzel appears to be passing the early eye test. The data has also backed up what’s been seen to this point.

“He’s played well. He’s made plays,” Reds manager David Bell said on Saturday. “He looks like he’s been playing there for a long time, because of the athlete that he is, and he wants to get better and better. It’s pretty exciting to think about how good he can be out there.”

Senzel acknowledged he still has plenty to learn, and he committed his first error during Saturday's game against the Giants. In the fifth inning on a routine fly ball from Pablo Sandoval, Senzel simply dropped the ball. Two batters later on a Brandon Crawford drive to deep center field, Senzel corralled the catch for the third out, stranding Sandoval, so no harm was done.

In Senzel's eight starts and 76 innings entering the night, Senzel had caught all 13 of his chances. Saturday's misstep aside, it’s clear the 23-year-old is making the plays he should be making.

With an above-average 28.2 feet-per-second average sprint speed, according to Statcast, Senzel is 2-for-2 on 3-star play opportunities (51-75 percent catch probability) and 2-for-2 on 2-star play opportunities (76-90 percent).

Overall, Senzel has added eight points to his expected catch percentage (85 percent), which means he’s gotten to more balls than originally projected.

“We’ve talked about the in-game reps. The more I’m out there, the more innings I log, the more comfortable I am in the games,” Senzel said. “I’m getting to the balls I need to go. I’m making sure I get rid of the ball quick. I’m not giving up extra bases. I’m hitting the cutoff man. I’m making sure I am where I need to be for each pitch. I’m making the plays that I need to make.”

Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 5 overall prospect in baseball, Senzel only knew the infield during the vast majority of his college and Minor League experience. Once he set his sights on trying to take the opening in center field, Senzel logged eight games at Triple-A Louisville before his May 3 promotion. He also played 12 Spring Training games at his new position.

“I’m pleased with it so far,” Senzel said. “There are a lot more games, a lot more different situations every day. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Bell believed that Senzel’s background as an infielder has served him well as an outfielder.

“Up to this point, he’s been able to get good jumps on the ball,” Bell said. “He’s tracked balls well. His speed is playing out there. He looks like a center fielder. I think, too, the fact he was an infielder his whole life, I think that’s kind of added to the way he plays in the outfield. He has the arm strength and also gets rid of the ball quick. It’s not a long arm. It’s a shorter release. He gets good carry on the ball but he also gets rid of it pretty quick.”

Peraza still in the plans

With Jose Iglesias having become indispensable at shortstop -- Jose Peraza’s former regular spot – and Derek Dietrich delivering home runs while playing second base -- Peraza’s newer position -- playing time has become harder to get for a player who appeared in 157 games last season.

It hasn’t helped him that Iglesias and Dietrich have been hitting well while Peraza has struggled, batting .198/.250/.276 with two home runs in 37 games entering Saturday, when he was on the bench again. For the most part, Bell is trying to split second base between Dietrich and Peraza, but Dietrich is also playing more as a lefty hitter vs. right-handed pitching.

“They’re both going to play a lot. Jose Peraza is going to play a lot,” Bell said. “He just has to continue to stay ready. His opportunities are going to continue to come. Just by staying ready when those opportunities come … and gets going. That’s what good teams do. They pick each other up. Not everybody is going well at the same time. His time is going to come. He knows that.”

Same lineup, different day

Saturday marked the Reds’ 40th game of the season, and Bell has used 36 different lineups. A rarity happened when Bell had the starting eight in the same lineup spots as written out for Friday’s 7-0 win. It started with Senzel leading off again.

“I don’t feel a need to be tied to anything. I feel more of a need to use all of them and include them to keep everyone engaged and part of it,” Bell said. “We’re going to continue to do that. It’s going to look different, depending on who is playing. That’s the reality. That’s OK to us. There’s no need just to mix it up for no reason. We wanted the same guys in there tonight. The lineup had a good flow to it. It’s a pretty easy decision to throw the same lineup back out there.”

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.