By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — It is considered heresy, especially around Larimer Square in Denver, to compare any third baseman to the golden hands and platinum arm of Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies.
Even though he is inexplicably more than 1.4 million votes behind Arenado in the All-Star balloting, Cincinnati Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez can match Arenado stat-for-stat so far this year on the offensive statistical sheets.
Do those numbers lie? Suarez is hitting .301 with 16 homers, 11 doubles and a league-leading 58 RBI. Arenado is hitting .310 with 16 homers, 16 doubles and 55 RBI — with that built-in Coors Field advantage, despite the humidor.
Reds manager Jim Riggleman isn’t afraid to put Suarez on the same pedestal as Arenado and that includes defense, where Arenado is considered the Second Coming of Brooks Robinson.
Suarez was a shortstop for the Detroit Tigers when the Reds traded for him and immediately moved him to third base in 2015.
“Suarez has been Gold Glove caliber defense over there,” said Riggleman. “It is like trying to take away a Gold Glove from Brooks Robinson back in the day. You aren’t going to get it because Arenado is over there. But when the ball gets hit, we like it to go Suarerz’ way.
“I’ve seen some comments that when he first moved over to third base he wasn’t real good,” said Riggleman. “I was here and I don’t remember that. He has been really good from Day One, but he has been outstanding as he has moved along.”
Asked if Suarez is equal to Arenado, Riggleman didn’t hesitate with a quick, “Absolutely. Suarez has a great arm, soft hands, good range. Where Arenado separates himself from some people is that he has freakish range. Maybe my eyes deceive me, but he does have exceptional range.”
No, Mr. Riggleman, your eyes are 20/20 when you watch Arenado cover the third base area like snow covers the Rocky Mountains.
“Suarez, with his positioning and the help of infield coach Freddie Benavides, gets to a lot of balls. If I could pick a place for it to be hit at a crucial time in the game, I’d want it to go right to Suarez.”
Suarez, the soon-to-be 27-year-old Venezuelan, likes to talk team, team, team. When asked about the recent offensive explosion during which the Reds have averages more than six runs over the last 15 games and does that mean the team has a potent offense, he smiled and said, “Oh, hell yeah.
“We got good offensive guys and we are hot right now, playing really good baseball and trying to enjoy this moment,” he said. And at the moment Suarez leads the NL in RBI despite missing 16 games early in the season and he flat-out says the RBI title is a goal.
“I want to win it,” he says. “Everybody wants to lead every category. It is my goal to be better every day and winning the RBI title would show I’m getting better every year. Winning it would be awesome for me because that’s my world, my goal, what I play for.”
Despite winning nine of their last 10 and 12 of the last 15 when they opened a four-game series against division-leading Milwaukee Thursday night, they remain in last place, four games behind the fourth-place Pittburgh Pirates and 12 1/2 games out of first place, 12 games under .500.
So what is the immediate goal? Catch the Pirates? Get to .500?
“The team right in front of us now is the Pirates so we gotta catch those guys first and then keep going. We are playing the Brewers right now and if we can beat those guys we can really start doing something. This is going to be a challenge for Milwaukee because they know we are playing good,” said Suarez.
“Personally, I think Arenado is the best third baseman in baseball,” said Suarez. “Everybody knows he’ll be at the All-Star game, but to be in the Top Five in the National League voting, well, for me I am proud of myself.”
The voting so far is a fraud, other than Arenado leading it. Chicago’s Kris Bryan, suffering a down season, is second. Atlanta is stuffing the ballot box, which has put Braves third baseman Johan Camargo and his .240 batting average third. Suarez is fourth.
“I feel honored to be up there with those guys,” said Suarez. “If fans vote for me, fine. The more important thing for me is to just play hard and help my team win, do my job, hit well, play well on defense. That’s what I want to do every day.”
As Riggleman says, “He is just a heck of a player, such a well-rounded ballplayer. His instincts and game awareness are top of the line.”