Notes: Suárez ready at SS; rotation set

March 31st, 2021

CINCINNATI -- didn’t want to discuss how he felt about opening the regular season at shortstop until the Reds made their final decision. By Wednesday, that was all done. Suárez will move from his longtime home of third base back to the position he played coming up to the Major Leagues.

“I’m just so happy to make another Opening Day, now at shortstop. I’m very excited,” Suárez said before the team worked out on Wednesday. “For me, it’s a big honor to play shortstop here in this organization. The most important thing for me is I am ready for Opening Day. I feel great and I think our team is very nice. It looks good. I can’t wait to put everything together.”

With a shortstop vacancy all winter and most of spring, the Reds did not acquire anybody for the spot in the offseason. When camp opened, the club had Kyle Farmer, Alex Blandino, No. 6 prospect Jose Garcia, Rule 5 player Kyle Holder and non-roster invite Dee Strange-Gordon competing.

A couple of weeks ago, the Reds decided to take a look at Suárez after he arrived to camp 15 pounds lighter and with more mobility. He hadn’t played shortstop regularly for the Reds since 2015, and it wasn’t smooth, initially.

“My first couple of games, I was a little bit scared. I was, like, nervous a little bit,” said Suárez, a 2018 All-Star. “When I started to play more at shortstop, I started to feel comfortable. Now I feel like a normal, natural shortstop in games. I want to play every day. That’s the thing. If you play every day, you know how to play.”

Garcia was sent down for more seasoning and Holder was returned to the Yankees. Strange-Gordon was released, and Farmer has returned to a utility role. With Jonathan India making the team as a second baseman, the infield shuffle was completed with Mike Moustakas moving from second base to his natural spot at third base.

Suárez, 29, slugged a career-best 49 home runs in 2019. In a challenging 2020, he batted .202/.312/.470 with 15 home runs, 38 RBIs and a 99 OPS+. He opened by batting .118 with two homers over the first 20 games with 25 strikeouts in 82 plate appearances. Losing weight was partially motivated by his performance last season.

“I feel like even when I lose a little bit of pounds, I feel my power still,” Suárez said. “It doesn’t matter. I just want to see how this season is going. I will do the best I can do, play hard every day and see what happens at the end of the season.”

Rotation order set

The Reds set up the rest of their starting rotation to follow Luis Castillo on Opening Day and Tyler Mahle on Saturday vs. the Cardinals. Jeff Hoffman will get the ball on Sunday against St. Louis with José De León opening a three-game series against the Pirates on Monday. Lefty Wade Miley will start on Tuesday against Pittsburgh.

Why was Miley put in the fifth spot?

“It had nothing really to do with Pittsburgh,” pitching coach Derek Johnson said. “It had everything to do with just giving him a chance to get a couple of more innings in Spring Training because he started off slow.”

Gray, Lorenzen updates

Hoffman and De León made the starting five because of injuries to Sonny Gray and Michael Lorenzen. Gray has been dealing with mid-back spasms, while Lorenzen has a slight right shoulder strain.

“Lorenzen had a small setback, and when I say small, I think it's very small,” Johnson said. “I look for him to get going again here, either today or tomorrow. I can't give you a timetable on him quite yet. I don't think it'd be fair; I think it'd be a little bit premature.”

Gray was scheduled to pitch in a simulated game on Wednesday.

“We're still looking with Sonny sometime in the middle of the month, if all things go well,” Johnson said.

Fulmer makes the team

The final spot in the Reds bullpen was finalized Monday evening when Carson Fulmer was told by Johnson that he made the team.

“A lot of weight off my shoulders. It feels great,” Fulmer said Wednesday. “This is definitely a place I’ve wanted to be. I’m ready to help this team win as much as possible.”

Fulmer was signed to a Minor League contract by Cincinnati on March 17, after he was cut by the Pirates. He allowed one earned run and one hit in his three appearances for the Reds, but was throwing strikes.

“The one thing I like about Carson is he’s a guy who you can pitch him a lot, I think,” Johnson said. “He’s a guy that I think will take the ball for you and give you the type of innings that you need."

Roster not set

The final 26-man roster will be pending going into Thursday. The club will have to determine if first baseman Joey Votto can be activated from the injured list after his camp was interrupted by COVID-19. The final backup infield and outfield spots on the roster hang on whether Votto is activated.

Aristides Aquino and Mark Payton are left in the outfield battle, while Blandino and Max Schrock are the only extra infielders remaining.