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Akiyama's outfield role to be fluid with Reds

@m_sheldon
January 8, 2020

CINCINNATI -- The Reds got a three-year, $21 million contract done with outfielder Shogo Akiyama on Monday and held a press conference on Wednesday. Now the work begins of meshing his skills with a lineup that needs to make production strides after a disappointing 2019 season. “Probably at the top

CINCINNATI -- The Reds got a three-year, $21 million contract done with outfielder Shogo Akiyama on Monday and held a press conference on Wednesday. Now the work begins of meshing his skills with a lineup that needs to make production strides after a disappointing 2019 season.

“Probably at the top of the list is his ability to get on base,” Reds manager David Bell said.

Cincinnati used the previous offseason to upgrade its rotation and had one of the better staffs in the National League much of the season. But it was still a 75-win club that ranked 12th in the NL in team batting average and runs scored and led the Majors with 33 one-run losses.

Bell envisions Akiyama, who had a career .301 average and .376 on-base percentage in Japan, as a top-of-the-order player who will help affect the needed change.

“Just looking last year at our offense, our ability to do damage and hit for power, we hit a lot of home runs,” Bell said. “We need to get on base more. If we get on base more with those strengths, it’s going to lead to a lot more runs.”

Akiyama, 31, was a six-time Pacific League Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder for the Seibu Lions in Japan. The Reds have Nick Senzel already as a center fielder, along with corner outfielders Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino and Phillip Ervin.

There is no set position in the outfield currently planned for Akiyama.

“This guy can play center and play left and right,” Reds general manager Nick Krall said. “We’ve had injuries in the past. This is a guy who loves to play, who can get on base, who you can put in a lot of different places in the lineup. He can give Senzel a day off. He’s a great piece to work with Aquino.

“You can mix and match with certain guys. We told him he’d get regular playing time, and he would play all three outfield positions.”

Akiyama appeared to have no issue with the fluidity.

“As far as position is concerned, wherever the team needs me to play is what I will do,” Akiyama said through his interpreter, Roger Kahlon.

Bell was confident that he would find enough playing time for all his outfielders.

“But I’m also very sensitive, too, of making sure we put these guys in a position where they are comfortable with their role and they know how much they’re going to play,” Bell said. “There’s a balance there for sure. I can’t say I have it figured out exactly how it’s going to shake out. I do know we have good, young players that need to play. Not for them, for us. We’re going to have to figure it out as we go.”

There could be more shuffling as well. Krall did not rule out more acquisitions for the outfield with top free agents Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos still on the market. Before signing Akiyama, the Reds were interested in both outfielders.

“I think right now, we’re being opportunistic, seeing what’s there,” Krall said. “We’re going to be opportunistic and see what we can do to make this club better as we move toward Spring Training.”

Bell played for the Mariners when Japanese sensation Ichiro Suzuki debuted in 2001.

“Going through that experience and being part of that helps a little bit with my comfort level,” Bell said.

Akiyama was a five-time All-Star in Japan but not a superstar like Ichiro. Many Japanese hitters have followed with varying degrees of success. For every Hideki Matsui who excelled in the United States, there were also those who struggled like Kazuo Matsui and Kosuke Fukudome.

“I played with a few different Japanese players,” Bell said. “They were all so different in the way they played and their personalities. I really enjoyed getting to know all the Japanese players I played with. That’s why I’m looking forward to getting to know Shogo as an individual outside of the game as well.”

Akiyama elated being Reds' first Japanese player

Akiyama looked forward to matching up at the plate against Japanese big league pitchers like Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees and Kenta Maeda of the Dodgers.

“We’re of the same generation,” Akiyama said. “We’re about the same age. In that sense, there is a level of familiarity in terms of our relationship. I look forward to playing, getting ready for the Major League Baseball season and hopefully facing them during the season.”

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.