CINCINNATI -- Reds top prospect Nick Senzel thought he would know what his first Major League at-bat would feel like. Then the reality exceeded his expectations once the crowd of 23,478 fans at Great American Ball Park erupted with cheers as his name was announced.
“I dreamed about it but it was nothing like that,” Senzel said. “It was pretty surreal walking up to the plate, hearing my name and how the crowd reacted was really special to me because I know they’ve supported me since I got drafted. Just to come this far, and for the city of Cincinnati having my back like this, it was really emotional and really special.”
The experience didn’t end with the expected happy finish, however, as the Reds were handed a 12-11 loss in 11 innings by the Giants after having an 8-0 lead through three innings. Evan Longoria’s leadoff homer in the top of the 11th against reliever Jared Hughes was the difference.
Senzel wound up having a busy night while going 1-for-4 with an infield single, two walks, a run scored and nice catch on defense.
“It’s a big night for him, to get your first hit. I thought he made some good plays in the outfield. He athleticism and speed showed up tonight. More than anything, a special night,” Reds manager David Bell said. “I thought there was a good energy in the ballpark tonight. It would have been a great game to win.”
In that first time up, Senzel acquitted himself nicely against Giants starter Tyler Beede. Following two fastballs for an 0-2 count, he took three straight pitches for balls and then fouled the next two off. On the eighth pitch he saw from Beede, he flied to center field where Kevin Pillar made a slick sliding catch.
In the bottom of the ninth, after the Giants came all the way back to make it an 11-11 game, Senzel had a runner on first base when he squibbed a Tony Watson pitch slowly in the grass to third base. Longoria made no attempt to throw and Senzel had his first big league hit.
“I’ll take it,” Senzel said. “It was just good being out there. I was happy with some of the at-bats I had, especially battling back, seeing a lot of pitches and drawing a lot of walks. I was fairly happy with most of my at-bats.”
Defensively, Senzel was also tested. In the top half of the sixth, he made a nice running catch in center field for his first career putout, which went as a sacrifice fly for Steven Duggar.
“It was good to get some reads,” Senzel said. “We have all the information [on cards] in our back pockets. When pitchers execute and we have to go get one, it’s good to get out running and get a couple of those out of the way.”
First, he missed most of May dealing with vertigo -- a condition from which he is now free from symptoms. Then Senzel had season-ending surgery to repair a fractured right index finger at the end of June. In the fall while working out in the outfield during instructional league, he needed another surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. On March 25 in Arizona, three days after being optioned to Louisville, he sprained his right ankle.
“There’s so many memories, and it feels like such a long journey with the injuries and everything. It was such an emotional moment for me and my family after Wednesday’s game, a dream became a reality,” Senzel said before the game. “It just made it worth it. It was hard for me to explain that moment in time. Just knowing I’m here, in the lineup and an actual Red, has made it all worth it.”
The Reds’ offense ranks last in the Major Leagues with a .210 team batting average. Cincinnati has sorely missed the contributions of second baseman Scooter Gennett, while other key players like Joey Votto, Yasiel Puig and Scott Schebler have yet to get going at the plate. Schebler, who won the starting center-field job over Senzel in camp, will now make way for the rookie who learned the position during Spring Training after previously only playing in the infield.
Senzel could pick up some of that slack, but the club isn’t putting it all on him.
“This is team that doesn’t need a savior. It could use a jolt,” said Dick Williams, Reds president of baseball operations. “We have really good offense. There are a bunch of guys on this team that will make it happen. Nick’s going to slide right in there, play good defense in center, swing the bat.”
Senzel is considered athletic and with good instincts, so the Reds felt comfortable having him try center field. Before his injuries, he was blocked at his two most natural positions -- second base by Gennett and third base by Eugenio Suarez. Senzel would have been ready for a callup last season, but injuries got in the way.
When mainstay center fielder Billy Hamilton was non-tendered in the offseason, Senzel immediately set out to win the job knowing it was his best path to the big leagues. His injection of energy is welcomed.
“We want to help that outfield defense a little bit. We want to help the offense. We think Nick is ready to do that,” Williams said. “He put in some good work in Spring Training and the Minor Leagues. We would have liked him to get as much experience out there as he could in center field, but we think he was progressing quickly. Then with the situation here, it created a little more urgency to get him here. So we got a little more aggressive with his promotion.”