By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — A writer approached pitcher Michael Lorenzen in the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse early Saturday afternoon and said, “What d’ya say, Babe?”
Lorenzen cracked a broad smile, knowing immediately the reference was to Babe Ruth, a home run-hitting pitcher before he became a home run-hitting outfielder.
In his last two at bats, Lorenzen hit home runs, the first in Atlanta as a pinch-hitter and the next while he was on the mound against Milwaukee.
Somebody kiddingly asked manager Jim Riggleman if he might consider making Lorenzen his fifth outfielder and Riggleman winked and said, “Maybe the third.”
And there is another way Lorenzen could be used and it has been talked about by Riggleman and his staff.
Earlier this week, Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, trying to protect a 1-0 lead against Washington became creative — again. It is Cash who sometimes uses a relief pitcher to start a game before bringing in the starter in the second or third inning.
In this case, Cash wanted a left hander to face lefty sluggers Bryce Harper and Juan Soto, but in between the two in the lineup was right hander Anthony Rendon. Rather than using two different southpaw relievers and making three pitching changes, Cash brought in lefty Jose Alvarado to face Harper. After Harper drew a walk, Cash called on right hander Chaz Roe to face Rendon — while Alvarado remained in the game. Where? Incredibly, he put him at first base.
Roe struck out Rendon and Alvarado returned to the mound. Genius, huh?
“We talked a little bit about that, it came up when we were in Atlanta,” said Riggleman. “The reason I would do that, and I’m sure it was his reason Cash did it, was that he wanted Alvarado to pitch to the next hitter, not the one batting.
“When Whitey Herzog managed the St. Louis Cardinals he used to do that when his closer, Todd Worrell. Howard Johnson (New York Mets) had Worrell’s number, just like Eric Thames has ours. Whitey would bring in Ken Dayley to face Johnson and put Worrell in right field. Then he would bring Worrell back to the mound after Dayley faced Johnson.
“We’re not there yet, but Michael is the guy you would do it with,” Riggleman added. “You have to be confident that if the ball is hit out there he could handle it.”
There isn’t much Lorenzen can’t handle. In fact, he played outfield/pitcher in college at Cal State-Fullerton and some teams wanted to draft him as an outfielder. The Reds chose him as a pitcher.
Lorenzen’s eyes flashed when he was asked if he could see himself doing something like that — moving from the mound to the outfield and back to the mound in one inning.
“I’m up for whatever, if they think that is going to put us in the best situation for us to win, matching guys up like that,” he said. “Of course I’m up for that. I saw (Chicago Cubs manager) Joe Maddon do it against us a couple of years ago. I thought at the time, ‘That might be fun to do sometime.’”
What is always fun for Lorenzen to do, other than blow a fastball past Anthony Rizzo or Freddie Freeman, is to swing a baseball bat. He takes as much pride with making contact with a bat as making contact with the catcher’s mitt when he is on the mound.
“I just take great pride in the game of baseball,” said the 26-year-old right hander, a lottery pick (38th overall) in 2013. “Whatever that means — running the bases, shagging fly balls, hitting or pitching. I just love all aspects of the game. I know Major League Baseball is so specialized these days and that’s kind of a bummer. But I just love the game.”
Lorenzen, in addition to his home run Friday, pitched three innings and Riggleman says that is not a precursor of stretching him out to move him into the rotation.
It is more a move to take some of the stress off relief pitchers Jared Hughes and Amir Garrett. Hughes has pitched 42 2/3 innings, second most for a relief pitcher in the majors, and Garrett is third with 42 1/3 innings. Hughes has pitched on consecutive days seven times, twice pitched three days in a row and 11 times more than one inning.
Hughes has never pitched more than 75 2/3 innings and that was five years ago. He is on pace for close to 85 this year. and Riggleman is concerned about it, even though in the dark ages of baseball relief pitchers pitched major innings. Dodgers relfef pitcher Mike Marshall once pitched 202 innings and said Riggleman, “We don’t even have starters going 202 innings these days.”
“Hughes’ pace was getting up there in May, going to him and Garrett and David Hernandez quite a bit,” said Riggleman. “All three were used a lot and the plus side was that we were in meaningful situations, not getting blown out, a close game because those guys usually pitch in a close game. And in June it was games we were winning.
“That’s where Lorenzen came in when he came off the disabled list, taking the load off those guys. That’s what we have to do. Hughes is on a pace for 84 or 85 innings and the most he has is 76.”
Riggleman then smiled and said, “It is just a different world right now in baseball. When I had Terry Adams in Chicago (Cubs) two years in a row he pitched 100 innings in relief and nobody blinked an eye.”
Riggleman does want to use Lorenzen for more than an inning and said, “We had had a few outings in a row with Michael where he threw to only a couple of hitters and the situation dictated that I had to bring a left hander in. There were tight situations, no room for error.
“I kept pulling him out of games when I brought him in and I want him to pitch more than that,” said Riggleman. “So when Sal Romano only went five Friday I wanted Michael to pitch at least two, maybe three.” He went three.
“We need him for longer stints to take some of the innings Hughes and Garrett have been pitching,” said Riggleman.