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No. 1 prospect Senzel stands out in Reds romp

@m_sheldon
May 26, 2019

CHICAGO -- Before this year, the only experience that Reds rookie center fielder Nick Senzel had leading off in the Minor Leagues was when he was there to make up for lost at-bats after an injury. Before this year, Senzel also had zero experience as an outfielder. During the Reds’

CHICAGO -- Before this year, the only experience that Reds rookie center fielder Nick Senzel had leading off in the Minor Leagues was when he was there to make up for lost at-bats after an injury. Before this year, Senzel also had zero experience as an outfielder.

During the Reds’ 10-2 victory over the Cubs on Sunday at Wrigley Field, Senzel again demonstrated he’s quickly learning his way. In five plate appearances, the organization’s No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, reached four times on three hits and a walk and scored four runs. In the top of the third inning, Senzel also recorded his first big league outfield assist at a critical moment.

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"Right from the first at-bat, he had a good approach off their pitcher today. It makes a difference, especially what he can do when he's on base,” Reds manager David Bell said after his club took two of three games over Chicago for the second time this month.

Senzel, 23, was called up from Triple-A Louisville on May 3 and is batting .256/.330/.422 in 21 games, including 17 starts at the top of the order. Known for an advanced hitting approach since he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, it’s shown in the Major Leagues. His 4.07 pitches per plate appearance is second to only Eugenio Suárez on the club.

“The first two games of the series and the last one in Milwaukee, I wasn’t seeing it very well and not doing my job as a leadoff man,” Senzel said. “I tried to simplify the game. I know there are going to be highs and lows and you don’t want to get too low or too high. Just try to simplify things, get on base and let them score me.”

Including Senzel’s leadoff single, Cincinnati’s first four batters of the afternoon notched hits against Cubs starter José Quintana to take a 2-0 lead, with Senzel scoring on a Suarez single. In the top of the third inning, Senzel led off by reaching on an infield hit, then reached second base after the Cubs’ defense botched the pickoff attempt and rundown. He later scored on a Suarez sacrifice fly.

Reds starter Tanner Roark pitched five scoreless innings with six hits, one walk and nine strikeouts. But two-out trouble found Roark in the bottom of the third inning as the Cubs notched three consecutive singles. Anthony Rizzo tried to score on a Willson Contreras hit to center field, but Senzel fired a perfect one-hop throw to the plate to end the inning.

“If he doesn't throw him out, the inning gets extended. It's 3-1,” Bell said. “It's a completely different game. He charged it, attacked the ball and made a good, strong throw."

According to Statcast, Senzel’s throw clocked in at 96 mph and was the hardest throw tracked by a Reds player this year.

"That was a great throw -- a perfect throw,” Roark said. “I threw up a fist up in the air. I was pretty pumped up. It was a great throw, a great tag to get out of the inning with no runs."

For Senzel, it was a bit of redemption. In the eighth inning of Friday’s 6-5 Reds win, Senzel briefly bobbled the ball and made a rushed throw after fielding a Contreras single. It allowed Rizzo to score what was at the time the go-ahead run for Chicago.

“I tried to flip my glove and just try to catch it on an in-between hop and I didn’t catch it,” Senzel said of Friday’s play. “My momentum was carrying me forward and I had to throw it on the run. It wasn’t a terrible throw, but I needed more arm.”

That was not an issue on Sunday.

“I think I put my body in a better position to throw. Just transferring to the outfield after I played the infield my whole life, so I have that natural run on the ball. I’ve been working on staying on top of the baseball now.”

The game broke open in a four-run top of the sixth inning. After a Justin Edwards wild pitch to Senzel that scored Curt Casali, he walked. He was then able to score on a three-base error when Suarez’s fly ball to right-center field was dropped by Jason Heyward when he and Kris Bryant collided.

In the eighth inning, Senzel sent a hit into center field and hustled ahead of Albert Almora Jr.'s throw for a double. Statcast tracked his sprint speed at 29.4 feet-per-second. It took 4.79 seconds to go from home to first base before Senzel went into another gear. It took only 3.27 seconds for him to get from first base to second base. Another Suarez sacrifice fly would score him from third base two batters later.

“This was the best atmosphere I’ve been a part of,” Senzel said. “It’s packed. My Dad [Jeff] is from Chicago. He was able to watch me. It was good because they’re playing good baseball and for us to win the series and take two of three from them, it was great. We know we’ll see them again.”

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.