By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — If Nick Senzel can transform some of his confidence that border on cockiness onto the field and batter’s box, the Cincinnati Reds already have a polished emerald.
Senzel’s arrival is being greeted with the same fanfare and expectations as other former No. 1 draft picks like Barry Larkin, Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey.
Much is expected and Senzel expects to deliver with Amazon Prime speediness and alacrity.
He was called up from Class AAA Louisville this week and not only immediately was placed in the line-up, but he was plopped into center field, a position he still is learning and thrust into the second spot in the batting order behind Joey Votto.
So is that pressure, or what? Senzel shrugged his shoulders.
“Doesn’t make any difference to me. Joey will just get on and I’ll hit him in,” he said. “That’s the plan.”
While some expect him to be the club savior, lift the team on his coat hanger shoulders and carry it out of the offensive abyss, Senzel tried to tamp that down a bit. But not much.
“I am just going to do my part and if I play the way I know I can play that will be enough,” he said.
President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams says the team doesn’t need a savior but that Senzel can bring positives into the clubhouse.
“This is a team that doesn’t need a savior,” said Williams. “It can use a jolt. We have a really good offense.” Obviously he hasn’t looked at a statistical sheet lately, but he is talking possibilities over realities.
“There are a bunch of guys on this team that look at themselves as guys who are going to make it happen,” he added. “Nick should just slide right in there. If he can pick us up on defense out there and give us some good at bats the rest of it will take care of itself.”
And the timing? Certainly it has a lot to do with a dormant lineup, one that manager David Bell ran out there Friday night against the San Francisco Giants batting .232, .000, .224, .178, .217, .302, .192, .143 and .197.
“If you are ready, you’re ready. You don’t bring him up here to keep him on the sidelines,” said Williams. “We want an injection of energy into this team. We want to help the outfield defense and we want to help the offense and we think Nick is ready to do that.”
Senzel believes he was ready last year, but an assortment on injuries held him back, plus he needed to learn the nuances of center field after he was drafted No. 1 (second overall) in 2016 as an infielder out of the University of Tennessee.
“I knew I was ready last year,” he said. “But it got cut short (due to injuries) and I’m here now and I couldn’t be happier.”
Of his trail to the majors strewn with illness and injuries, Senzel reluctantly took them step-by-step, although admitting frustration for the delayed process.
“At the time it was frustrating and you want nothing but good to come out of it, but it made me a stronger person,” he said. “I got to know myself better when I wasn’t playing. When the game is taken away from you it makes this moment even more emotional and worth it.
“When you have injuries in a row and surgeries in a row it is just mentally exhausting with the rehab process,” he said. “Sometimes you let negative thoughts creep into your head, but learned to concentrate on getting back, doing rehab, getting healthy instead of worrying about things I couldn’t control.”
As confident and self-assured as he is, Senzel admitted a few butterflies and moths will inhabit his stomach cavity when he takes his position in the outfield and especially when he steps into the batter’s box.
“I’m sure I’ll be nervous and it is reasonable to say I’ll be nervous,” he admitted. “But I’m ready to go, I’m ready to play because I didn’t play yesterday.”
So today, wearing No. 15, batting second, playing center field, Nicholas Peter Senzel, 23, begins what most project as his first step toward the stars.
BLEACHER REPORT put out some lists last week and one of them was the top ten pitchers in April. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Luis Castillo was not No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3. Incredibly, he wasn’t in the top ten. Were they kidding? Not really.
But when Castillo pitched earlier this week in New York, former major league first baseman and Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez said, “Luis Castillo is the best pitcher I’ve seen this year.”
And Major League Baseball recognized what Castillo did in April by naming him the National League Pitcher of the Month for April.
Remember the screams and howls from fandom and the media when manager David Bell named Castillo to start Opening Day, despite some ugly spring training numbers.
Well, Castillo was dazzling on Opening Day against the Pittsburgh Pirates — 5 2/3 innings, one run, two hits, three walks, eight strikeouts. And he has gotten progressively better. His numbers are right off a game board from somebody who cheats.
Castillo: 3-and-1, 1.45 earned run average, 43 1/3 innings, seven runs, 26 hits, 17 walks, 50 strikeouts.
To show how bad Cincinnati pitching has been for two decades, notwithstanding Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo, Castillo is the first Reds pitcher to win Pitcher of Any Month since Denny Neagle in 1999. No, Cueto never won it. Nor did Arroyo. Nor did Homer Bailey.
When Neagle won it, Castillo was 7-years-old. Asked if he knew of Neagle, Castillo said, “No,” and when told he won Pitcher of the Month way back in 1999 Castillo had one word: “Wow.”
When Castillo arrived in the Reds clubhouse for the first time, fellow pitcher Tim Adleman said, “Hey, La Piedra is here,” and everybody picked up on it. In Spanish, that means the rock or the stone.
Said Castillo with a smile, “And the name stuck.” Right now, there could be no more apropos nickname.
“It is an honor and this is for my team, this is for the pitching coach (Derek Johnson) and for everybody who helped me and for Cincinnati,” he said. “I have prepared and competed and trusted my team and that is the key to success at this level.
Trusting his team to score runs has been misplaced trust, mistrust. Castillo has been good enough to be 7-and-0. But run support has been minimal.
Castillo, though, does have a concrete goal.
“I’ve been achieving my goals step-by-step and I hope it continues the rest of the year,” he said. “I want to make the All-Star team and I hope God can help me with this, but that’s my goal.”
His teammates can be of the most help by mixing in a few runs when he pitches.