GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- From now on, Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart is only a left-handed hitter. Gone are the days of switch-hitting, which he had done his whole professional career.
Barnhart, 29, batted exclusively left-handed over the final month of last season as he contemplated giving up switch-hitting.
“For me it’s the right decision,” Barnhart said on Saturday. “For the team, it’s the right decision. At the end of the day, it’s about doing what’s best for the team and producing to help the team win. Doing that, left-on-left, is putting my best foot forward, in my opinion, to help the team.”
Overall in 2019, Barnhart’s offensive production dipped as he batted .231/.328/.380 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs in 114 games. The differences in his splits were stark, as he batted .247 from the left side vs. right-handed pitching and .150 right-handed vs. lefties.
Compounding Barnhart's frustration was the fact that he suffered a strained right oblique while swinging in the batting cage and missed a month from June 28-July 25. In 60 games before the injury, he was batting just .191/.290/.315 with five homers. Over 54 games after he returned from the injured list, he batted .273/.367/.448 with six homers.
Barnhart made up his mind during the final month of the 2019 season, even though he went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts batting left-handed against lefty pitchers.
“As I tried it the last month, I progressed to feeling confident,” said Barnhart, who is in the third year of his four-year, $16 million contract. “Until you’re in there, you really don’t know. I feel like I saw the ball well. I obviously didn’t get any hits, it was more in the work I do before the game, hitting on a curveball machine, a slider machine, left-on-left. I’m confident in the hitter I am left-handed.”
It remains to be seen how playing time will be divided between Barnhart and second catcher Curt Casali. Barnhart has been the primary catcher since 2016, but while he struggled to hit in the first half of ‘19, it became a platoon situation with the right-handed Casali.
Barnhart, who is now officially listed as a lefty hitter in the Reds' media guide, has been taking extra batting practice with left-handed coach Rolando Valles throwing to him. He’s also been using a virtual-reality simulation that lets him track pitches from left-handers. The club is expected to give him opportunities to face more lefties in Minor League games this spring to help him prepare.
“The more and more pitches I can see, the more arms I can see, the better,” Barnhart said.
None of the five projected starters will pitch the first two games. The rest of that week’s pitching schedule was not posted. Pitching coach Derek Johnson determines the assignments.
“There’s definitely different factors for different guys,” Reds manager David Bell said. “The goal is to create a schedule for each pitcher that’s perfect for their buildup for the season. DJ does a great job of creating that schedule. There’s calendars for the season to look at and guys with different progressions, split-squad games you have to cover, innings -- a lot of factors. The main thing is to try to get everybody ready for the season.”
Akiyama communicating well
The Reds' first player from Japan, new outfielder Shogo Akiyama, has a translator at his disposal whenever he needs to speak with Bell, teammates or the media. But Akiyama, who began studying English last year, doesn’t always need help.
A Japanese reporter pointed out that Bell and Akiyama were seen talking together without a translator.
“I’m so impressed,” Bell said. “I had a two-minute conversation. I could tell he understood what I was saying in English and I definitely understood what he was saying in English. It’s incredible. Just from when he signed [in January], his English has gotten so much better.”