CINCINNATI -- When the Reds signed Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama to a three-year, $21 million contract in January, they envisioned the on-base specialist as their leadoff man.
It didn’t work out well initially. Akiyama was dropped further down and often platooned. But at a time when Cincinnati needs him most, the 32-year-old has made the adjustment and is finally clicking.
“This is the normal that I’ve been expecting,” Akiyama said Tuesday via translator Luke Shinoda.
On Sept. 6, Akiyama was batting .196 with a .299 on-base percentage -- well below his track record in Japan. Over his previous nine games, he is .379 (11-for-29) with a .514 OBP, including a 2-for-4 performance in Tuesday's 4-1 win over Pittsburgh. The Reds are 6-3 in that stretch.
“He’s doing his job. He’s doing his part,” Reds manager David Bell said. “I love that he’s playing with confidence and comfort. It’s really showing up. He’s definitely swinging the bat and getting big hits. You can just see that he is seeing the ball better. It’s difficult to hit your way on base enough to hit at the top of a Major League order. So the fact that he’s getting on base, he’s walking and he’s swinging the bat well -- they’re obviously related -- it puts him in a really good position.”
For September, Akiyama is batting .333 with a .490 OBP. He has drawn 11 walks this month and is getting tougher with two strikes. The lefty hitter often fouls off pitches to the left side to stay alive until he sees a pitch he likes.
“I’ve also been getting used to the velocity a little more, and I’ve just been learning to hit inside the zone and what type of pitches they’ve been attacking me with,” Akiyama said.
During an Aug. 29 game vs. the Cubs, Akiyama felt things start to click for him when he lined a single to deep right-center field against ace Yu Darvish.
“Especially with success that he had in the U.S. and since he also is a fellow countryman, there were more feelings into it and how I needed to be successful at the plate,” Akiyama said. “I have been making small adjustments at the plate there, but to be able to connect on a hit there was very important to me. I think that was a turning point in that month and the following results later as well. Without the power that I have, that also reminded me of my job to be able to keep racking up those hits and to be able to get on base in the lineup.”
Suárez departs for paternity leave
The Reds placed third baseman Eugenio Suárez on the three-day paternity list on Tuesday after scratching him from the lineup vs. Pittsburgh. Outfielder Aristides Aquino, who was optioned to the team's alternate training site at Prasco Park after Monday’s doubleheader, was recalled to replace Suárez.
Second baseman Mike Moustakas was moved to third base and Freddy Galvis was added to the lineup at second against Pittsburgh.
Pitcher Sal Romano didn’t just win Game 2 on Monday when he faced one batter -- Gregory Polanco -- and got him to pop out in the fifth inning as Cincinnati trailed, 4-3. He also experienced a personally significant moment. Romano, who took over when José De León exited with an injury after he walked both batters he faced, hadn’t yet pitched in the Majors this season.
Romano, who has pitched in 68 big league games since 2017, was designated for assignment on Feb. 5 and invited to Spring Training as a non-roster player. He was an earlier cut and was also invited to Summer Camp in July, but he did not make the Opening Day roster.
“It’s one of those things where this game is so humbling at times,” Romano said. “After being on the roster for those three years and then you come in as a non-roster guy and you have to fight, you’re not going to get handed anything. You have to earn it back. I stayed the course with a lot of help and support from my family and friends. It was just one of those things where I knew I could get back here, but I’m really happy to be here with these guys. I stayed at it and I watched these guys. I wanted to be a part of it so bad. I wanted to do everything I could to get back here.”
De León was placed on the 10-day injured list with a right groin strain. Reliever R.J. Alaniz was brought up and added to the 40-man roster. To make room, outfielder Nick Williams was DFA'd.