Akiyama adjusts as he enters pivotal Spring Training

March 20th, 2022

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There was a lot of sensation around outfielder Shogo Akiyama when the Japanese player joined the Reds and signed a three-year, $21 million contract ahead of the 2020 season. Two years into the deal, Akiyama is still searching for traction in the big leagues.

In 142 games over 2020-21, Akiyama batted .224/.320/.274 with no home runs. Last season, injuries and his struggles at the plate limited his playing time to only 32 starts in 88 games played. The success he enjoyed while playing in Japan has eluded him thus far in the Majors.

“Obviously, I had those moments where I was sad and also, a little bit of anger that I wasn't able to produce any results,” Akiyama said via translator Luke Shinoda. “Coming in here, I knew I was supposed to bring some of the good aspects of myself playing in the big leagues. But if you look at the results, obviously, that hasn't worked out and I have to work harder for that.

“At this age, it's harder to work on new things, but that's all I can do right now. So that's what I'm focusing on.”

Despite his $8 million salary for 2022, Akiyama might have to battle for a roster spot, because the Reds have several other left-handed bats also vying for bench spots.

Outfielder Jake Fraley was acquired from the Mariners on Monday and free agent Colin Moran was signed on Thursday to a one-year, $1 million contract. Jake Bauers was signed to a Minor League contract in the offseason and the club already has outfielder TJ Friedl.

Akiyama’s contract stipulates that he can’t be sent to the Minors without his consent. He would also receive a $1 million assignment bonus if he’s moved to another team.

This is obviously a big camp for Akiyama. Here are some ways he is seeking to make it a good one.

What is different at the start of camp?

Akiyama flew from Japan to get to Spring Training on Saturday. Although he was in Saturday’s lineup vs. Oakland, the Reds did not have him go full speed in workouts too soon so his body could properly recover from a flight around the globe. He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in the 9-3 win.

In the middle of camp last year, Akiyama suffered a left hamstring strain and missed the first month of the season.

“I feel responsible for that because we pushed him more than we should have and handled his situation like the other players',” Reds manager David Bell said. “We need to let him ease into it. We know what Shogo can do. He has been playing for a long time, he doesn’t have anything to prove in Spring Training; he needs to get himself ready. He’s going to have a role on this team, we’ll have to figure out how to best use him."

What hitting changes has Akiyama made to improve?

Akiyama, who turns 34 on April 16, noted he put on weight in the offseason to add strength. He also made a change to his approach that includes an updated batting stance.

“If I don’t change anything from the last two years, there won’t be anything different with how people think of me and my hitting, as well,” Akiyama said. “It’s a new challenge. Just hopefully the results come through.

“In the past, I was watching the ball until the very end, but now I'm focusing on hitting the ball in front. And that's mainly the biggest difference right now.”

Could the changes help Akiyama hit his first Major League home run?

“Yes,” Akiyama said in English before switching back to Japanese.

“I understood that even without the translation,” he said.