Notes: Shogo targeting power; Miley healthy

February 22nd, 2021

Looking back at 2020, his first year in the Major Leagues, outfielder didn’t mince words when asked on Monday for his evaluation.

“Nothing satisfying as far as numbers for last season,” Akiyama said via translator Luke Shinoda from Spring Training in Goodyear, Ariz.

Signed last year to a three-year, $21 million deal and Cincinnati’s first Japanese player in the Majors, Akiyama dealt with adjustment issues getting used to big league pitch velocity and movement.

In 54 games, Akiyama batted .245/.357/.297 with no home runs, nine RBIs, seven steals and a 76 OPS+. Over nine seasons with Seibu in Japan, his slash line was .304/.379/.457.

But eventually, Akiyama made the needed adjustment. He batted a team-leading .317 with a .456 on-base percentage for September while mostly batting leadoff. His success helped spark an anemic offense as the Reds made it into the postseason. He took that success into his offseason workouts in Japan.

“Definitely I felt that change in velocity that wasn’t there in Japan,” said Akiyama, who turns 33 on April 16. “During the offseason I was swinging and imagining as if the velo was there from a Major League-level pitcher. Through workouts, I value each swing more with power compared to where I used to focus on the contact and shape of the swing. Just looking ahead to Spring Training, I hope I can produce results moving forward.”

Manager David Bell reminded that Akiyama’s overall first season was a small sample size amid a 60-game schedule.

“For whatever time that he ... [struggled] or wasn’t effective, he definitely did finish strong. There is no question about that,” Bell said. “He looked more comfortable. You have to give Shogo a ton of credit for the adjustment he made midseason. My understanding is he made a significant change from what he had done in the past and to do that, to trust himself to be able to do that, was really impressive.”

Bell started the lefty-hitting Akiyama once all season against a left-handed starting pitcher. That came while the designated hitter rule was in effect and the Reds had a lot of outfielders.

Going into 2021, the National League is proceeding without the DH, and Bell still has a lot of outfielders. In 2020, Akiyama made 30 starts in left field and 17 in center. The club has other left fielders, including lefty hitter Jesse Winker and righty Aristides Aquino, and a right-handed-hitting center fielder in Nick Senzel.

How the outfield time will be split has yet to be determined.

“I’d like to see [Akiyama] get that opportunity to play more, to face left-handers,” Bell said. “We know he can do it. He’s done that in Japan. As far as the position breakdown, I don’t know that it matters that much, just because he’s such a good outfielder. He can play all three positions. I think we have to use that. His willingness to do that is really important. When he doesn’t play a particular position or when he doesn’t face a left-handed pitcher, it’s not a knock or reflection on Shogo. That’s because of our confidence and belief in one of our other players or hitters.”

Related

Miley feels healthy

Left-hander had a somewhat different offseason preparation schedule. Miley, who was limited to six games in 2020 because of a strained left groin and a strained left shoulder, saw a physical therapist and did a lot of work to strengthen the lower half of his body.

“I didn’t throw quite as much as I normally would. I took it a whole lot easier on my lower half just to hopefully let everything kind of heal and get ready,” Miley said. “I feel like I’m in a good spot right now, so I’m just excited.”

Miley, 34, went 0-3 with a 5.65 ERA in six games (including four starts) and is likely to be the No. 4 starter -- if all goes well.

“I’m ready. I’m just kind of working my way in through camp and taking it kind of easy right now,” he said. “I’m trying to build up to get ready. I’m definitely excited to get back out there and compete in hopefully a somewhat normal season.”

Bell not concerned about job security

Bell is heading into the final year of his three-year contract, his first big league managing job. The team’s record over this span is 106-116, including 31-29 in ’20. When asked if he is concerned about lacking long-term security, he said he isn’t.

“I think one advantage of being around the game forever is that I've really grown to appreciate every minute, every moment that I have,” Bell said. “Very blessed and grateful for every day to be able to do this job and be able to be around our players and definitely do it here in Cincinnati. That's truly, 100 percent truthfully, my focus. I'm very happy to be able to say that, because it's really enjoyable and I love it, and it's a great responsibility. Thinking beyond that in any way is just not fair. It's certainly not any fun.”