Stephenson gets reps in LF; Senzel update

September 4th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- For nearly a month, before batting practice, Reds rookie catcher Tyler Stephenson has carved out some time with coach Jeff Pickler to work out in left field. Stephenson has enjoyed the learning experience. 

“It’s been fun,” Stephenson said Saturday. “I can’t remember the last time I actually played left field. I’d probably have to ask my mom about it. She knows every detail about it. It’s been great.”

Stephenson already learned one new position this season by taking on first base. He appeared in 19 games there, including 14 starts, often when Joey Votto was on the injured list in May with a fractured thumb. But with Votto having a renaissance second half, those opportunities have all but dried up. Manager David Bell is still looking for other ways to keep Stephenson’s bat in the lineup.

“Just trying to make it possible for him to either start games or come into games and stay out there,” Bell said. “We haven't done it yet, but I'd say we're getting closer to that. We're going to have to do it for the first time at some point and I just want it to be a possibility. I think once we do it one time, I think we'll all be more comfortable with it.”

In 109 games entering Saturday, Stephenson was batting .283/.371/.434 with nine home runs and 40 RBIs.

Left fielder Jesse Winker went on the 10-day IL with an intercostal strain on Aug. 16, which left the Reds with four outfielders. Add in the continued offensive struggles of Aristides Aquino and Shogo Akiyama, and it seemed more possible for Stephenson to get a look.

But this week, the Reds traded for and promoted center fielder Delino DeShields and have also been giving utility player Max Schrock starts in left field. Stephenson has kept up the work, however.

While working with Pickler, Stephenson has taken fly balls, practiced reading balls off the bat and has worked on his fielding and throwing techniques. He feels he’s made a lot of progress in a short amount of time.

“It’s another tool in the toolkit. If [Bell] gives me an opportunity to be in the lineup there, I’m all for it,” Stephenson said. “I’m a lot more comfortable. If at any point in the near future, I’m needed to be out there, I would give it my best shot.”

Stephenson, 25, has plenty of experience cutting down runners as a catcher. His hope is he gets a chance to throw someone out from left field in a game.

“I’ve been laughing about it the whole time,” he said. “I was talking to [third-base coach] J.R. House about it, ‘If I can get an opportunity to throw somebody out, I’m going to throw it 95 [mph] and I’m just going to let it rip.' Who knows? We’ll see.”

No progress for Senzel

Since he had his option to Triple-A Louisville reversed on Aug. 19 to remain on the injured list, it’s looked less and less likely that center fielder Nick Senzel will return to the Reds in 2021. Senzel, who has been trying to return from May surgery on his left knee, was sent to Goodyear, Ariz., to continue his rehab process.

“He’s getting acclimated to Arizona, going through the intake testing and all that,” Bell said. “He went and had another opinion on his knee. It seems that it’s going to take a while for him to get back and healthy. I don’t know what that means for the rest of the season, but it didn’t sound like it was going to be any time real soon.”