Michael Lorenzen was never a full-time pitcher until he did it professionally upon being drafted by the Reds in 2013. When Lorenzen reached the big leagues in '15, he made 21 starts before becoming a reliever.
But Lorenzen never gave up his desire to be in a starting rotation. He started three games at the end of the 2018 season and two more in the final month of last season.
Going into the 2021 season, Lorenzen’s best chance to make a rotation is now, and he knows it.
“I know who I am as a pitcher now. It takes time. It takes experience,” Lorenzen said Saturday from Spring Training in Goodyear, Ariz. “No matter how much you try to rush it and try to learn as quickly as you can, experience really means everything. I have a ton of experience under my belt now.
“I’ve been pitching for a good amount of time now, so that’s not an excuse anymore. I just feel like I know myself as a pitcher now, and what I can and can’t do, and I think I would love to be able to do that for 180-plus innings a year.”
In 18 games last season, Lorenzen was 3-1 with a 4.28 ERA. In his two starts, he was 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA, two walks and 14 strikeouts over 9 2/3 innings. He also had a relief appearance of four scoreless innings and another in which he went a career-long five innings in relief with just one run allowed.
Lorenzen, Tejay Antone, Jeff Hoffman and José De León are all competing for the final spot in the Reds' rotation this spring. But Lorenzen offers an additional advantage because of his hitting skills. Manager David Bell can use him between starts as a pinch-hitter, pinch-runner or even as an outfielder.
In 2019, Lorenzen played 29 games in the outfield, including six starts in center field. As a hitter, he has seven career home runs and a .716 OPS.
“When it comes to that decision, No. 1, what he’s done throughout his career as a pitcher is the No. 1 factor,” Bell said. “When you look at Michael Lorenzen, maybe more than anybody else in the game, there is the added element that he brings to the game. I do believe that can be taken advantage of more as a starter, but we would never let that get in the way of making the best decision for our pitching staff.”
Before 2020 Spring Training, Lorenzen took only two weeks off from throwing and essentially threw year-round to prepare himself. He was unable to repeat that this past offseason because of patellar tendinitis in his left knee. It required a platelet-rich plasma injection and ultrasound procedure to break up scar tissue that Lorenzen believed happened from being a two-way player in ’19 and the requirement to slide.
“It didn’t affect me pitching-wise,” he said. “I really got it cleaned up so I can be ready to play some outfield and the coaching staff can use me whenever they need to. I’m 100 percent now running around, doing drills, doing everything with no restrictions. I’m good to go.”
During the season, Lorenzen believes he could be a factor in many games between starts.
“I think just having the day off after I pitch is more than enough for me,” said Lorenzen, who will earn $4.43 million this season in his final year before free agency. “I think the coaching staff will decide if it will be beneficial to use me in a game the day before I pitch. That’s going to be up to them, but obviously, I’m up for it.”
Farmer prepared for shortstop
Because he’s a utility player who has served as the third catcher for Cincinnati, Kyle Farmer reported to camp with the pitchers and catchers. Although Farmer will catch bullpens to stay sharp, his mission this spring is to become the everyday shortstop.
“I'm more locked in than usual, rather than just trying to make a spot on the roster, trying to earn a starting spot,” Farmer said. “That comes with a lot of responsibilities and a lot of focus. That's what I trained this offseason for. Mentally, I'm ready and ready to take on the challenge.”
At this time a year ago, Bell didn’t realize that Farmer could play shortstop, even though it was his main position at the University of Georgia. But when Bell needed someone last season, he was pleased with Farmer’s performance.
Farmer appeared in 15 games (10 starts) at shortstop and did not commit an error over 85 2/3 innings. The Reds were unable to sign a free agent or trade for a shortstop in the offseason.
“Trust me, I was on Twitter every day seeing if they were going to sign a shortstop,” Farmer said. “It’s pretty full circle. I finally had the nerve to go up and tell [Bell] that I wanted a shot last year, to prove myself and I still have more proving to do.”
To improve his chances to play the position, Farmer dropped 10 pounds to 195 and did more cardiovascular activity and footwork practice in offseason workouts. A resident of Atlanta, Ga., he also worked on his hitting with the help of Pirates hitting coach Rick Eckstein, who has a facility near Farmer’s home, so he could be better against right-handed pitching.
Eckstein had Farmer use his legs more to get down on the ball for line drives rather than trying to get added lift.
“He's in our division, which is kind of funny. I worked with him a little bit in high school, too,” said Farmer, who batted .266 over 32 games in 2020. “I made a big swing change this offseason, like a really drastic swing change, and I hit every day off a right-handed slider machine just to get myself used to that.”