By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Paint Michael Lorenzen green and you have baseball’s version of The Incredible Hulk.
His biceps burst out from under his t-shirts and his thighs are as hard as tempered steel.
On Saturday afternoon in Great American Ball Park, Lorenzen did what no other pitcher has done before him — and he did it not on the mound but in the batter’s box.
Lorenzen, a pinch-hitter, unloaded a grand slam home run during an eight-run Cincinnati Reds seventh inning that spit apart a close game and pushed his team to a 12-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Lorenzen has three home runs in his last three official at bats — a pinch-hit solo home run, a home run during his last pitching appearance and Saturday’s grand slam. He is the first pitcher to hit three home runs in three at bats with a grand slam tagged on the end of it.
The Reds have eight grand slams to lead the majors and the last two were hit by pitchers — Lorenzen and Anthony Desclafani. Technically, two of Lorenzen’s three home runs this week came as a pinch-hitter and not as a pitcher, but his employment sheet says pitcher.
After the game, Reds Director of Baseball Operations Dick Williams was in manager Jim Riggleman’s office and a writer said, “Talk the manager into playing Lorenzen in the outfield every day.” Said Williams with a slight grin, “Believe me, it has been talked about.”
Before the game, Riggleman was asked if he is ready to include Lorenzen into his outfield rotation, make him the fifth man in the rotation. Said Riggleman with a glint in his eyes, “Maybe the third outfielder.”
When it was relayed to Lorenzen that his manager kiddingly said that he could be the third outfielder, Lorenzen laughed and said, “That’s funny, that’s really funny.”
The Milwaukee Brewers saw no humor in it whatsoever in what he did. He went out and peppered the left field seats with his third home run in three at bats. What was he thinking when he made contact? “Home run,” he said. “I knew it was a home run.”
And as he circled the bases for the third time in less than a week, he thought, “It was a surreal feeling for sure. I am seeing the ball really well right now. I say it every time — but I love this game, I love baseball and everything about it. When you are playing good it is extra special.”
Right now the baseball looks as big to him as a basketball to LeBron James and Lorenzen is doing more than dunking it.
As he talked several players walked past his locker whispering the name Babe Ruth. Pitcher David Hernandez, credited with the win, said, “He is my favorite player.” Catcher Tucker Barnhart walked by and said, “He’s a clown.”
Pitcher Sal Romano called him Michael Ohtani, a comparison to pitcher/outfielder Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. “Man, I’ve made a little contact a couple of times this year with the bat, but that? Wow.” Relief pitcher Amir Garrett said, “What do you know compared to him. You suck.” And they both laughed as Lorenzen left the clubhouse to shouts of, “Bye-ya, Babe. See-ya, Babe.”
Said Riggleman, “No, I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ll tell you, though, I don’t know if I’ve seen one player do as much damage to one club in such a short time as Eric Thames does to us. But what Lorenzen is doing is really unique. The thing is we were behind 2-0 the other day when he hit one and it was a close game today when he hit it. It was not like it was meaningless times in the games. Those were meaningful at bats.”
Lost in Lorenzen’s histrionics was more mayhem by Milwaukee’s Thames. As the second hitter of the game Thames blasted a Tyler Mahle pitch into the right field seats.
What else is new? It was Thames’ 14th home run against the Reds in a year-and-a-half and his seventh in Great American Ball Park in 39 at bats. And it assured the Brewers that they had hit at least one home run in their last 18 games in GABP, 40 homers.
That was about it for the Brewers against Mahle, who had the Brewers swinging at the stifling hot air. In 5 2/3 innings Mahle struck out 12. Eight of the first nine Brewer outs were strikeouts.
With the score 1-1, an error by third baseman Eugenio Suarez led to two unearned runs in the sixth inning and Mahlle left with two outs — 5 2/3 innings, three runs (one earned), five hits, three walks, 12 strikeouts.
Relief pitcher Dylan Floro struck out the side to end the game, giving the Reds 18 strikeouts, a team record for a nine-inning game.
The Brewers led, 3-2, when the seventh inning began. The first eight Reds reached base, including a run-scoring double by Scooter Gennett (his third hit after an 0 for 7 start to the series against his old team), a run-scoring single by Tucker Barnhart, a two-run single by Adam Duvall and the coup de grace grand slam by Lorenzen.
“That’s the best performance I’ve seen from any of our pitchers this year,” said Riggleman. “When you think about it, it is not a quality start, which is a little ridiculous.” To get a quality start Mahle needed to pitch six innings but only made it through 5 2/3. “That was impressive, he was just really, really good. He pitched, anywhere from 89 to 96, adding and subtracting from his fastball. His breaking ball got better as the game went on, just a fine young composed pitcher.”
Mahle agreed with his manager for the first five inning. But he was beating up on himself for the sixth when the Brewers scored two unearned runs to break 1-1 tie and take a 3-1 lead.
“I agree with (Riggleman) with a yes and no,” said Mahle. “I made a lot of good pitches throughout the game. But we put up one to tie it and I made some really bad pitches when they needed to go out and shut them out. It’s hard to be mad about that because it was such a great game and we won, but that haunts me for the rest of the day.”
But the first five innings?
“I was getting a lot of swings and misses on my slider and I was happy to see that,” he said. “My fastball command was really good through the first five and I was ecstatic the way that went.”
Mahle, like Lorenzen, is a native Southern Californian and of Lorenzen he said, “The guy is incredible. I was able to see him in college and I knew he was a great athlete. But we’re in the big leagues and he is doing even better than in college. So I don’t know what to say about that guy.”
Just bow and call him either baseball’s Incredible Hulk or The Babe.