CINCINNATI – Not only was Reds center fielder Scott Schebler appreciative that he earned the Opening Day starting job during Spring Training, he also showered praise on the player he beat out in top prospect Nick Senzel.
Schebler, who was Cincinnati’s right fielder the past two seasons, was forced to shift positions after the club acquired Yasiel Puig to play right field in December. Jesse Winker and Matt Kemp will get much of the time in left field. Schebler had a fantastic Spring Training, batting .342/.490/.579 with two home runs, five RBIs and 11 walks. But Senzel -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 ranked prospect in baseball -- also had a great camp.
“I’m obviously super excited to be back," Schebler said before Thursday's 5-3 win over the Pirates. “Nick is a great athlete. He’s going to be a great ball player. I wish he could have made the team with me. He’s definitely going to help the team. I know he was hurt recently, so he might be delayed a little bit. I’m more than ready to play center field. I played it a lot in the Minor Leagues, and you guys have seen me play a little bit here. Getting all of those innings in Spring Training made me feel even more confident going into this year. I think me and Nick pushed each other and we brought out the best in each other this spring.”
Schebler, 28, played in his 47th big league game in center field when the Reds opened vs. the Pirates on Thursday. That includes 14 starts he made in place of Billy Hamilton in 2018.
An infielder in the Minors and college, Senzel came to camp to compete for the center field opening despite having never played a game there. The 23-year-old rose to the challenge as he batted .308/.300/.462 in 12 Cactus League games, with six of his 12 hits being doubles. He also played well defensively.
The Reds said it was a baseball decision to cut Senzel in the waning days of camp, not one based on service time. Still, fans were clamoring for Senzel, and it would have been a popular choice to bring him to Cincinnati for the opener. As it turns out, he sustained a sprained ankle on Monday during a Minor League game in Arizona that will likely keep him out a few weeks.
Schebler is aware of the politics that surrounded the final decision, but he was also very deserving of winning the job in his own right.
“I think the Reds have always kind of been that way. Production kind of always speaks loudest,” Schebler said. “Nick had a really good Spring Training. I had a really good Spring Training as well. I think they just went with a little more experience and they wanted him to get some more innings down in Triple-A in center field. After watching him play for a couple of weeks, he’s going to be a good center fielder. He’s going to be good wherever he plays, to be honest. He’s a great athlete. He’s going to help this team this year and for the future.”
Finnegan designated for assignment
The Reds claimed right-handed pitcher Jose Lopez off waivers from the Giants on Thursday and optioned him to Triple-A Louisville. Lopez, 25, was with the Reds organization since being a sixth-round pick in the 2014 Draft, but he was claimed by San Francisco on Feb. 12.
To make room for Lopez, lefty pitcher Brandon Finnegan was designated for assignment. It’s been a stunning decline for Finnegan, who led the club in starts with 31 in 2016. The last two seasons were filled with struggles and injury, however. In ‘17, he was limited to four starts because of a strained lat and a strained teres major muscle near his left shoulder.
Last season, Finnegan was 0-3 with a 7.40 ERA in five starts before being demoted to Louisville. With the Bats, he was 2-10 with a 7.05 ERA in 28 games, including nine starts. In six spring games this year, including one start, Finnegan had a 19.80 ERA with nine hits, six walks and eight strikeouts over five innings.
Gennett lines up
Injured second baseman Scooter Gennett, who is out 2-3 months with a right groin strain, lined up with his teammates during the Reds' Opening Day introductions. Gennett emerged from the dugout on crutches, but ditched them halfway to the line and limped the rest of the way.
Gennett’s injury prompted Cincinnati to move shortstop Jose Peraza to second base, which opened a spot for spring signing Jose Iglesias to become the regular shortstop. The signing proved to be even more important in light of the injury.
“Scooter is obviously a big part of our team,” Iglesias said. “I’m excited to get an opportunity to play. I’m looking forward to playing in front of these great fans.”