GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The road back from a fractured left big toe was infinitely longer than the Reds and center fielder Nick Senzel wanted or expected. Finally, on Wednesday, Senzel played three innings in center field vs. the Padres -- his first Cactus League action of the spring.
"It was really exciting," Senzel said on Thursday. "I was looking forward to it. With my progress since Monday, I thought I was ready to get into a game and test it out. I was happy to be out there again."
On Thursday night, Senzel was in the starting lineup for the first time when Cincinnati met the Mariners in a 17-6 loss. In a twist, he was the third baseman. Manager David Bell set expectations entering camp that Senzel could be used at multiple positions in 2023 -- including all three outfield spots, third base and second base.
Senzel has worked at third base during camp, including during double play drills on Thursday afternoon. It was the position he played in college, and when he was picked second overall in the 2016 MLB Draft. One scout felt Senzel could be the best defensive third baseman the team had.
"It does show how we plan to use him when he’s back with us," Bell said of starting Senzel at third base. "Right now, his focus is just to get healthy, play well and we’ll see what the needs are at that point and make a decision. It’s been fun seeing him play third base. I haven’t seen a lot of it, but he can really play third."
Senzel will open the season on the injured list and is expected to remain in Arizona for more work after the Reds break camp. He will likely do a rehab assignment at Triple-A Louisville before he is activated.
TJ Friedl or Will Benson seem to be the main options to man center field in Senzel's absence, while Spencer Steer is all but certain to be at third base.
Senzel, who played a career-high 110 games but batted .231 with a .601 OPS and just five home runs last season, was receptive to playing anywhere he was asked.
"Third base has always felt like home for me," Senzel said. "It will give me an opportunity to get some work. Getting in a game there means a lot to me. I’m looking to take full advantage of it."
It was an 0-for-1 game against Seattle for Senzel, who grounded into a double play in the bottom of the second inning. He played three innings total. In the top of the first inning, he missed with a diving attempt on Eugenio Suárez's double down the left-field line.
Senzel, 27, fractured his toe in a wall collision on Sept. 20 vs. the Red Sox. He struggled to heal and underwent surgery that kept his foot in a boot and required a scooter to get around most of the offseason.
Senzel was behind schedule when Spring Training opened in February, but was cleared earlier this month to initially hit in simulated games -- but not run. On a drive to right field on Wednesday, his foot was tested a bit when he hustled to second base on a two-base error.
"It’s nice to have the speed of a big league game," Senzel said. "That was important for me before we broke camp for me to get into some games.”
More from Reds camp on Thursday
Competing for a rotation spot, left-handed prospect Brandon Williamson had an untimely poor outing. Williamson started and gave up nine earned runs on eight hits over 2 2/23 innings, walking three and picking up three strikeouts. He also allowed two home runs against his former organization.
"In three days it doesn’t matter," Williamson said. "Hopefully tonight doesn’t dictate what a whole season would look like for me. I don’t think it would. I don’t think of myself as any less prepared to be ready for a big league season. Tonight sucks. It’s a lot to learn from. It’s what happens, so whoever makes those decisions, it’s obviously on paper. I have to deal with it. I still feel like I could handle the season."
Joey Votto hit a lined RBI single to center field in the bottom of the third inning for Cincinnati's first run. Votto is batting .211 in seven spring games, but no decision has been made about the 39-year-old first baseman's status for Opening Day.
"I'm still letting that play out," Bell said. "He definitely looks good."