GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Reds relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen wasn’t trying to downplay his feelings or play it cool. Lorenzen was already geared up Sunday knowing that he is scheduled to make his spring debut in center field on Monday vs. the Indians.
“Oh yeah, I’m really excited. I can’t wait,” Lorenzen said. “It’s starting to get fun.”
Manager David Bell plans to have Lorenzen pitch an inning of relief vs. Cleveland, likely in the fifth, and then play two innings in the outfield. The expectation is he would get at least one at-bat.
“It will be good for us to see him too a little bit over the next couple of weeks,” Bell said. “We’re pretty confident that if it’s well thought out and we handle it the right way, he’ll be able to help us in other ways, more than just pitching for sure.”
Before he was drafted by the Reds in 2013, Lorenzen was a college center fielder and closer for Cal State-Fullerton. After he got to the big leagues, initially as a starting pitcher, he was able to show off his hitting skills.
Lorenzen, 27, batted .290 in 55 games last season and led all pitchers with four home runs, including two as a pinch-hitter. He has hit six homers over his career, including three as a pinch-hitter. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he’s one of four Major League players ever with at least three pinch-hit homers and 100 games pitched. The others were Gary Peters (1959-72), Lynn Nelson (1930-40) and Jack Stivetts (1889-99).
As he established himself with the Reds, Lorenzen often lobbied for the chance to play the outfield. Former interim manager Jim Riggleman finally gave him one inning in right field on Aug. 13 vs. Cleveland last season, and he's taken reps as a center fielder this spring. The previous coaching staff was hesitant to explore having Lorenzen be a two-way player because they wanted him – and needed him – to focus on pitching effectively. Seeking maximum roster flexibility, Bell and his coaches established quickly that they were interested in giving it a shot.
“I’m just excited for him. I’m excited for what he can do for our team,” Bell said. “I’m excited about his approach to what he’s trying to do to be prepared to help us in any way. He’s the type of athlete that can do this. We just have to figure out how to make it work, because it’s new. It’s pretty rare. We want to be very thoughtful about how we use that. He’s doing everything he possibly can to prepare himself.”
On the mound in 2018, Lorenzen was 4-2 with a 3.11 ERA in 45 games, including three starts to end the season. In four Cactus League games this spring, he has a 3.60 ERA over 4 2/3 innings. He also pitched an inning on Saturday during a simulated game vs. Minor League hitters.
Lorenzen isn’t expecting to be used extensively as a center fielder during the regular season.
“I think it’s an option. You just see over the season how it plays out,” he said.
During the winter ahead of the 2018 season, the Angels signed Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani expressly to be a two-way player as a starting pitcher and designated hitter. Ohtani, the American League Rookie of the Year Award winner last season, underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in October. That means no pitching in games until 2020, but he will still get to DH this season.
“With Ohtani, he had kind of earned the right over in Japan and had the leverage for the team to change according to his plan,” Lorenzen said. “That’s not the case with me by any means. It’s more of, ‘Where do we need you? How can you help the team? How can we use this to help the team?’ It’s not one of those things where we have to add another starter to the rotation to give me two extra days off. It’s more of an on-the-fly, ‘Hey, we need you to go out and be ready to play. You’ve got your glove ready? Good, we’re sending you out.’ It should be fun.”