PHILADELPHIA -- Reds outfielder TJ Friedl has some power but knows his best weapon at the plate can often be a well-executed bunt. Friedl says his motto is to “create chaos.”
Bunting became a bigger focus for Friedl in college, when he played at the University of Nevada for coach T.J. Bruce.
“It was a big part of our game in college,” Friedl said. “That’s when I learned push bunting off a lefty. All the way through my Minor League career, it was just working at it and getting better.”
Spring Training brought a treat for Friedl, when the Reds brought in former Major League outfielder Brett Butler to talk about bunting -- and his technique -- with the club.
Friedl, who is a lefty hitter like Butler, paid close attention.
“It was incredible,” Friedl said. “I just got to pick his brain and ask him questions about when he would look to bunt in certain situations, certain pitches and what [was] his favorite pitch to bunt and just learned from him. He was one of the best to do it. I just wanted to get as much knowledge as I could from what he was teaching me and sat around and listened while he talked to other guys.”
Friedl already has five bunt attempts this season, with four hits -- including two on Saturday vs. the Phillies. He notched the first sacrifice of his big league career on Tuesday vs. the Cubs. It came with no outs in the first inning after Jonathan India led off with a double. India scored from third base on Jake Fraley’s RBI single.
“To me, it’s never really a sacrifice,” Friedl said. “I’m always trying to bunt for a hit, even though in that situation it turned out to be a sacrifice. In the worst-case scenario, I wanted it to be a sacrifice bunt. Best-case scenario, we’d have runners on first and third and I’m safe. It helps create a rally. I bunt him to third with one out and they brought the infield in for Fraley. He gets a good pitch to hit and hits a groundball up the middle. That’s just different ways to create runs.”
On April 3, vs. the Cubs, Friedl bunted toward pitcher Drew Smyly and sprinted up the line. Smyly rushed a throw to first base, where nobody was standing. It allowed Friedl to take second base and pinch-runner Jason Vosler to advance from first to third base. Vosler later scored in the inning during a 7-6 win.
“That situation was epitome of creating chaos,” Friedl said.
The Reds were tied for 19th in MLB last season with eight bunt hits and were tied for 13th with 12 sacrifices bunts. They haven’t had many prolific bunters in recent history.
From 2006-08, speedy right-handed hitting outfielder Norris Hopper was a superb bunter who often pushed them to the right side of the infield. Hopper had 21 hits in 43 plate appearances when he bunted.
Hopper, who had one career homer, had little power of which to speak. Friedl already has two homers this season and hit all eight of his homers in 2022 after Aug. 16. Third basemen have been playing in on him to guard against the bunt, but he can also drive the ball.
“TJ is really well rounded. He understands the game,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He has power, so he’s not going to go up there and bunt every time. He saves it for when he thinks it’s a good time [in] the game to do it or if it’s a [good] matchup.”
“For me, it’s a big part of my game because it opens up holes in the infield,” Friedl said. “If I get jammed on something or roll over a groundball that might be an out, maybe they’re positioned to defend a bunt and that creates an opening to get a hit. … It creates movement. I want to set the table for the rest of the lineup.”