By HAL McCoy
CINCINNATI — There are days when a baseball writer has to look under clubhouse cushions and under the bat rack to find a story.
And then there are days when the writer walks into the clubhouse gets hit in the face with a tidal wave of
That was the case Tuesday before the Cincinnati Reds opened a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Great American Ball Park.
In no particular order of importance:
(A)Pitcher Michael Lorenzen returned from his rehab assignment and will nervously sit in the dugout Tuesday night wishing it was Wednesday. Lorenzen will be activated off the disabled list before Wednesday’s game and be plopped into the bullpen.
(B)lThere was a new face in the clubhouse, a wavy-haired blond with a large smile. The Reds called up infielder/outfielder Brandon Dixon from Class AAA Louisville. Perhaps because of what Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford of the Giants did to them last week and they no longer have Brandon Phillips or Brandon Finnegan the Reds felt they needed a Brandon on the roster.
(C) When catcher Tucker Barnhart arrived at the park and checked the lineup card, he discovered he was batting second in Tuesday’s game. He has never batted higher than fifth during his major league career.
LORENZEN PITCHED TWO innings Sunday for Class AA Pensacola against Jackson — 20 pitches 13 strikes.
Asked if he is ready to pitch, Lorenzen smiled and said, “I was ready three weeks ago. But they had to check all the boxes and the last one was pitching two innings.”
“We’ll activate him tomorrow because he pitched those two innings Sunday and when we bring him back we want him to pitch a couple of innings, if not more,” said manager Jim Riggleman.
“He is very confident and he would say, ‘Hey, I can give you five innings tonight,’” Riggleman added. “That’s the way he is.”
Lorenzen has contacted Riggleman several times, telling him he is ready to pitch, but Riggleman said, “I told him we have to leave that up to the training staff and rehab coordinators and they put him on a schedule and it is understood we stay on that schedule. I kept telling him, ‘We want you here, we believe in you, but there is a process you have to go through.’”
Ah, the process.
“It feels good to ALMOST be back,” said Lorenzen. “All parties are happy. The training staff is sick of me arguing and debating about when I should be back. I’m excited to be here and finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I wanted this three weeks ago.”
Lorenzen was in Pensacola rehabbing with starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, who has a couple of more rehab starts before activation. But Lorenzen says Disco looks ready.
“After I saw him pitch, I asked him, ‘Man, what are you still doing here? You look real good.’ We’re both game-ready. He feels good and his velocity is up.”While Brandon Dixon came up, Rosell Herrera went down.
“Brandon has been playing really, really well,” said Riggleman. “He had a really good spring, probably as good as anybody on the club and carried that into the season. Quite often that does not happen. A guy will have a big spring training and then when the season starts he falls off. He hasn’t missed a beat.”
Dixon’s problem with advancement is that he mostly played first base throughout his minor league career and he wasn’t about to supplant Joey Votto. But the Louisville bats played him at second base, third base and left field, a preparatory diet of positions.
“We hope he can give us some quality at bats off the bench because he has been seeing pitches,” Riggleman added. “Rosell Herrera has been sitting a lot so we sent him back to get him some playing time.
“Dixon has made himself playable in left field, third base and second base,” said Riggleman. “He signed as a second baseman and I’d be comfortable playing him anywhere.”
He was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ third-round pick in 2013 and came to the Reds with Scott Schebler and Jose Peraza in the Todd Frazier trade.
Dixon was playing in a game for Louisville Monday night when he was victimized by a managerial prank.
“I was playing and popped up in foul territory,” said Dixon. “The guy caught it and I walked back to the dugout to get my glove to play third. When I came after it (manager) Dick Scofield was waiting at the dugout and looked mad and I said, ‘What’s going on?’ He said, “You have to run that ball out.’ I said, ‘Well it was a foul ball,’ and he said, ‘I’m taking you out of the game.’ Then he broke a smile and I asked him what was up and he told me I had to go to Cincinnati tomorrow.”
Everybody then came up and hugged Dixon, congratulated him and he said, “That was awesome. Surprised? Yeah, you are surprised when it happens, for sure. But it is something I have been looking forward to for a long time.”
The 26-year-old native of La Jolla, Calif., drafted out of the University of Arizona, was hitting .326 with 12 doubles, four home runs and 14 RBI in 140 Louisville plate appearances.
“The last week I’ve played mostly third, but I’ve played all over the place,” he said. “It was cool walking into the clubhouse because I’ve never been here. It is an exciting for sure, a cool appearance. I’m excited to get things going and being on the field will be comforting.”
BARNHART BATTING SECOND is a temporary move, something Riggleman came up with because Jesse Winker was out of Tuesday’s lineup, the player who would have batted second.
“I thought about doing it last week but talked myself out of it,” said Riggleman. “But Tucker has been getting some good at bats and he is a good on-base guy. I’m just trying to get a guy on base in front of Joey Votto who gets on base more.” Barnhart has an on-base average of .347.
“I don’t care where I hit. I’m just happy I’m in the lineup at any spot, but the type of offensive player I am fits that spot,” said Barnhart. “The highest I’ve hit is fifth, but this year, collectively, I’ve been higher in the order.
“I showed up and saw it and I’m excited,” he said. “A guy hitting second is somebody who handles the bat and can do anything he is called upon as far as bunting and the hit-and-run. Anything of that nature and I take pride in being a complete player.”
He smiled broadly when it was mentioned that batting in front of Joey Votto means he’ll see better pitches to hit than when he bats in front of the pitcher.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s definitely something to be excited about,” he said. “When you hit in front of the pitcher you have to battle because you’re not sure they’ll pitch to you with the pitcher behind you.
Asked if he takes it as compliment to be placed in the upper echelon of the order, he said, “Yeah, I do, definitely. To hit second you have to have the trust of the manager and the coaching staff that you’ll put a good at bat together, put the bat on the ball and put it in play.”
THERE ARE FIVE TEAMS that seemingly have been eliminated already from playoff considerations, including the Reds. All that is at stake for those five teams is the No. 1 overall draft pick next year, a pick that goes to the team with baseball’s worst record.
As a public service, we are establishing a new division — The Top Draft Pick Division. Each week the standings will appear in this space. As of now, the Chicago White Sox lead the race with the worst record.
THE TPDP Standings
Chicago White Sox 13-32 —
Kansas City Royals 14-33 1 1/2
Baltimore Orioles 15-32 1 1/2
Cincinnati Reds 16-32 2
San Diego Padres 20-29 5
*Numbers at the far right represent the number of losses a team is behind the worst record.