Reds left-handed reliever Amir Garrett has dominated left-handed hitters this season. They are 0-for-9 with two walks and five strikeouts against him.
However, Garrett doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a lefty-only guy. He was happy to note on Saturday that right-handed hitters are 3-for-19 against him this season. (Although two of the hits were home runs.)
“I thought I handled righties pretty good last year,” Garrett said. “The more chances I get to face the righties, the more I'm going to be able to dominate them. I think most of my strikeouts are against them this year. To me, it doesn't even matter, it's about what's in here, what's in the heart.”
Garrett struck out left-handed hitters Matt Carpenter and Brad Miller during his perfect eighth inning of Friday’s 4-2 victory over St. Louis. Right-handed batter Tyler O’Neill grounded out to first base to end the inning.
“If he continues to pitch like he did [Friday] night with his slider and the velo like that on his fastball, it doesn’t matter who he’s facing,” Reds manager David Bell said.
This season, Garrett’s slider spin rate is similar to 2019, but it’s been more effective. According to Statcast, hitters are whiffing on the pitch on 68.6 percent of their swings, compared to 54.3 percent last season. The pitch has been used to put away 38.5 percent of batters in ’20, after it was 32.7 percent in ’19.
Garrett’s four-seam fastball velocity has averaged 94.2 mph this season.
“I just don't want to get into the same tendencies that I've had over the years, because hitters start to pick up on it,” Garrett said. “If I'm using my fastball more, it really throws them off and they're lost because they don't -- they're like, ‘This guy throws his slider or whatever 60-some percent of the time,’ and I'm throwing the fastball. They're going to be confused the whole at-bat. Just locating my fastball wherever I want it. I feel like I really located it well [Friday] night. It just sets up the slider. That's a big weapon for me.”
Earlier in the season, Bell was having trouble finding optimal situations to use Garrett. The club found that because of his high adrenaline, he’s better to use for one inning rather than him sitting down and getting back up for a second. The three-batter-minimum rule also changes how relievers are used.
“It’s just that when we’re managing the bullpen, you’re trying to do everything you can to win tonight,” Bell said. “That’s the first priority. But he serves a big role in our bullpen that just to keep running him out there for multiple innings, you’re going to lose him for a few days. That doesn’t make sense. Last year, early in the year, we went to him, went to him, went to him. By the end, he was worn out. It’s not as much of a consideration this year, but we want to have him as many nights as possible.”
Payton gets first callup
The Reds selected the contract of outfielder Mark Payton on Saturday and optioned utility player Josh VanMeter to their alternate training site. There was also a change on the taxi squad, with reliever José De León being added and infielder Robel Garcia returning to Prasco Park.
For Payton, it was his first big league callup. He didn’t have far to travel, as he was already on the club’s taxi squad for the road trip.
“As soon as I walked into the clubhouse, [Bell] pulled me right into his office,” Payton said. “Obviously, a pretty special moment for me personally and something I won’t take for granted or, really, look past ever.”
Payton, 28, was with Cincinnati as a Rule 5 player during Spring Training and Summer Camp, but he did not make the team and was returned to Oakland on July 21. The Reds re-acquired him from the A’s in a trade for cash on Aug. 7.
“It’s been a hectic month. It’s been a wild year,” Payton said. “I had no clue what was going to happen when I didn’t make the team the first go around. Obviously, just try to keep to myself, put in some work in case this time did come. Very thankful for this opportunity.”
Bell has plans for Payton, a left-handed hitter who will replace VanMeter on the bench.
“He’s a solid defender. He’s going to get some starts in left field,” Bell said. “Jesse [Winker] will continue to get starts in left field, but also DH some. From that standpoint, it’s kind of a one-for-one deal for now with Mark replacing Josh.”
VanMeter was 2-for-34 (.059) with one home run in 14 games over two stints with the Reds this season.
Thornburg contributing quickly
With a litany of injury issues behind him, Reds reliever Tyler Thornburg has impressed since his callup to the club on Aug. 14. Thornburg has retired all nine batters he’s faced over three innings in two appearances. That included his eight-pitch perfect inning on Friday.
“Very satisfying,” Thornburg said “I’d say, after the last few years just battling a lot, I felt really good in Spring Training. And then, of course, the whole shutdown thing happened. But yeah, I’m happy to be back and doing what I’m doing at the moment.”