Of course, the National League did not regularly use the designated hitter until this unique season. Outfielder Jesse Winker has been the Reds’ DH the most so far this season, and Wednesday’s game vs. Cleveland marked his 10th time in that spot in 2020.
The left-handed-hitting Winker has struggled to adjust to the role so far, and came into the day batting .115/.281/.115 with three singles, one RBI and 10 strikeouts in 32 plate appearances. Reds manager David Bell is going to stick with him, however.
“No concern. I mean this guy is a natural hitter,” Bell said on Wednesday. “Sometimes it takes a while to get going. It is a new role for him. It’s nice to get him a game here and there in the outfield. I do not want to put him in any situation where he thinks, or we see him, as a DH for the rest of his career or anything like that.”
Winker, who was a DH for only six games over his previous three seasons, has come off the bench twice to play left field this year.
Cincinnati is deep with outfielders and has primarily used the trio of Shogo Akiyama, Nick Senzel and Nick Castellanos.
“He continues to work hard as an outfielder,” Bell said of Winker. “For our team, right now, he understands that he fits that role for us and he’s going to need to figure it out -- and he will. I don’t believe the DH role is really impacting what he’s doing at the plate too much, but it probably is a factor. He is getting used to it and it’s new. But we all believe that Wink is going to hit. He’s always hit.
“He has such a great idea of the strike zone and what he’s doing. His rhythm and timing, he’s the kind of hitter that needs to have that feel, so just the more at-bats he gets -- he missed a lot of time [due to injury] last year -- so, as he gets into this, we expect him to get going.”
Second baseman Mike Moustakas, who exited Tuesday’s game after five innings with a bruised left quadriceps, was examined on Wednesday and he was not in the starting lineup. Bell was optimistic that Moustakas could return either Thursday or Friday. Josh VanMeter started in place of Moustakas.
Castillo’s harder slider
Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo, who will face Cleveland on Thursday, already has one of baseball’s best changeups and a fastball that can often touch 99 mph. Castillo has put effort into improving his slider this season, and even though he hasn’t used it a lot in 2020, something has stood out.
Castillo is throwing it harder. He’s only thrown 21 total sliders (about 4 percent of his 2019 total) so the sample size remains small. But here is what is being seen via Statcast:
Avg. slider velo
2017: 84.9 mph
2018: 83.6 mph
2019: 85.9 mph
2020: 87.9 mph
Overall, hitters are 0-for-4 against Castillo’s slider this season.
“I’m really happy with my slider,” Castillo said via translator Jorge Merlos. “Our pitching coach told me how to pitch it and it’s become a great success for me. I’ve been really impressed with how I’ve been using that slider.”
Castillo has the 30th highest average velocity on his slider this season (minimum 10 sliders) and it ranks 11th out of the 100 starting pitchers who have thrown at least 10 sliders.
The calendar may say Aug. 5, which is normally well into the second half of a 162-game season, but it’s still just the second week of 2020’s 60-game campaign.
“I think it is just like it’s the beginning of the year,” Castillo said. “We still had kind of an offseason where we were still training for this season. Now that we have a season, I feel very healthy, thank God, that’s why I’m throwing so hard as well.”
If the shoe fits
Wednesday’s starting pitcher, rookie Tejay Antone, has found a new friend this year in Akiyama. Although there is a language barrier since Akiyama is still learning English and Antone doesn’t know Japanese, the two have hit it off well.
“He’s a great dude,” Antone said. “I talked to him a lot during Spring Training 1.0. I wanted him to feel welcome, as well. He’s coming to America and I wanted him to feel welcome to the team and everything. I asked him about his shoes. I was like, ‘Do you get a discount? Are you sponsored by them? Could you get me a discount?’ He was like, ‘Oh, what size are you?’ So, I told him my size and then we left for quarantine -- well, everything shut down.”
When baseball resumed with Summer Camp last month, Akiyama remembered Antone’s compliment.
“He was like, ‘Antone! Look what I have for you,’” Antone recalled. “I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I totally forgot about it. Then he just brought me the shoes. I was like, ‘How much do I owe you?’ He was like, ‘No, no, family.’ I was like, ‘Dude, you’re great, man.’ He’s just a great dude. … I love hanging out with him.”