'More to come' as De La Cruz shows off tools in debut

June 7th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- A loud ovation for each plate appearance introduction, followed by hushed silence from the fans at rapt attention between every pitch. Yes, the show for the Reds was already a sensation at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday.

And De La Cruz appeared ready to meet the moment.

During Cincinnati's 9-8 walk-off win over the Dodgers, De La Cruz reached base three times as he went 1-for-3 with two walks and scored a run. His first Major League hit was a third-inning double with one out against starting pitcher Tony Gonsolin.

"He knew he was a big focus today, but you would never know it being around him," Reds manager David Bell said. "He went out and played relaxed, he played with passion and intensity. He was himself."

Batting left-handed against Gonsolin, the switch-hitting De La Cruz scorched a drive to the wall in right-center with an exit velocity of 112 mph, the hardest-hit ball by a Cincinnati player this season. According to Statcast, the 21-year-old went from home to second base in 7.74 seconds at 30.4 ft/sec (elite speed is 30 ft/sec).

"Very excited about the first hit. As people say, more to come," De La Cruz said via translator Jorge Merlos.

"What a great swing," Bell said. "Tough pitch, down 0-2. Elevated fastball that we see so often now. It's really tough to get to, and he was able to not only get to it, but do some damage with it. It kind of shows where he is now as a hitter."

In his first big league plate appearance in the bottom of the first inning with two on and one out, De La Cruz worked a full count before drawing a walk. He scored on Tyler Stephenson's two-run single to left-center field to make it a 3-3 game.

Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization's No. 1 prospect and No. 4 overall, De La Cruz drew a five-pitch walk in the fifth inning. 

A lack of plate discipline was a knock on De La Cruz in previous Minor League seasons, but it's an area where he's shown improvement for Triple-A Louisville this season.

“Incredible, both walks tonight were incredible," Reds second baseman Jonathan India said. "Not swinging at balls in the dirt and taking good pitches. That was really mature plate discipline by him. I’m excited to see him do that.”

The atmosphere jumped to another level in the sixth when De La Cruz represented the tying run in a two-out at-bat with an 8-5 deficit. This time, there was no silence.

The 22,602 fans chanted "Elly, Elly" between each pitch. But De La Cruz didn't come through this time against reliever Yency Almonte, as he grounded out to second base. The ball was still smoked, at 108.7 mph.

According to a Reds official, the club drew approximately 6,000 more fans than its usual Tuesday game crowd this season.

"It’s really special when you hear those fans cheering your name on," De La Cruz said. "To hear it in the Major Leagues is even more special."

The chants continued for De La Cruz as he batted once more in the bottom of the eighth, but fans were disappointed when he took a called third strike on a sweeper low and away from reliever Evan Phillips to end the inning.

"It was a perfect pitch. You can't do anything with that," Bell said. "The main thing is, you want to forget that one. The pitcher made a perfect pitch. There's nothing anyone can do with that pitch. That ability to be disciplined and not start expanding after that is really important."

De La Cruz wasn't involved in the three-run game-winning rally in the ninth after the Reds trailed 8-3 in the fourth inning, but his presence in the lineup certainly added to the electric atmosphere. 

Cincinnati scored six unanswered runs, with fellow rookie 's walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth bringing the crowd noise to a final, emphatic crescendo. De La Cruz noted that it was his favorite part of his first day in the big leagues, as it capped a special day.

"It was very emotional. Very excited to be here," he said. "I’m just trying to give an opportunity for the team to win, and we did that today."

The Reds' rebuilding effort is already bringing some excitement back, perhaps sooner than expected. 

“It was amazing. Elly was making his debut. He brought a whole crowd with him. That’s pretty sick," India said. "And he had a great night at the plate. He definitely showed out for his debut. He’s going to be part of this team for a while.”