By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Lineup Shuffle, a dance routine performed by Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell for the first six weeks of the season, apparently has come to a satisfactory conclusion.
For the past couple of weeks the top of the Reds order has been as steady as Plymouth Rock.
And it coincides with the arrival of rookie Nick Senzel. Bell has plopped him into the leadoff role and placed Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Yasiel Puig behind him.
While the offense still isn’t purring on eight cylinders, it isn’t sputtering as often and still needs two cylinders, Votto and Puig, to time themselves with the other six cylinders.
Senzel seems the natural leadoff guy the Reds have lacked because he splices together efficient at bats that leads to walks, he puts the ball in play and when he is on base he steals bases.
And he doesn’t mind the media attention, something he never had to endure in the minors. As he says, “ I have no problem with that. We’re starting to win some games and there is more media and the more media the better.”
In two weeks covering 13 games, Senzel has scored nine runs (the main goal for a leadoff guy), hit a double, a triple, three home runs and stolen four bases without getting caught. He has walked six times and has a .323 on-base average.
Nobody is more thrilled with Senzel’s quick adaption to the big leagues than manager David Bell.
“We like a lot about what Nick is doing, defensively and offensively at the top of the order,” he said. “He has the ability to get on base with good at bats. And he has acclimated well for his start in the major leagues.
“He brings an element of speed, he is really fast, and he has played well all-around,” Bell added. “And it allows us to have Joey Votto in the second spot (instead of leadoff, where Votto hit until Senzel arrived.). It has just made sense after we played around with it a little bit when he first got here.
“We’ve settled in with Nick at the top and for now we like it,” Bell added. “Our lineup now at the top has been very consistent and I don’t see that changing a lot. You watch Nick and you forget this is only his second week in the major leagues. And he handled it great.”
Senzel says batting leadoff is as comfortable as his father’s Barca-lounger because he has done it before, “Did it a lot last year at Triple-A after I came back from my ankle injury. So I have an idea about the leadoff spot, what is asked of it.”
Asked about stabilizing the lineup with his presence, Senzel said, “Yeah, my job is to get on base and have those guys score me. So, I try to get on base any way I can.”
Once he gets on base, Senzel is not reticent about bolting for second and he is four-for-four on stolen base attempts. Bell is so confident that Senzel has the steal-when-you-want approval.
“Any way I can to get into scoring position because I know the guys behind me have a lot of ability to score me,” he said. “I have the green light so I study the pitchers and catchers to make sure when it is a good time to run and when it is not.”
Bell trusts Senzel’s instincts.
“He has that freedom,” said Bell. “Sometimes from the dugout we can limit that or we can encourage it. I like it because we have the information (on pitchers and catchers). But we like it when players are good enough and have the ability so we can give them that freedom. The information helps them use their instinct better so they are not always waiting to be told what to do. And we trust his instincts and so far it has worked out well — he is fast, he can run. The big thing is when to do it and when not to do it.”
Senzel is self-confident, just on the edge of being cocky, but it plays well on him and his conversation is full of optimism.
“My first couple of weeks have gone pretty good,” he said. “My teammates and support staff made it easy to transition. All I have to do is focus on playing ball and winning games.
“Mostly I have had a lot of relief at getting here because I’ve worked so hard to get to this point,” he said.
Senzel takes a one-way approach to each game and each at bat, not fretting over what team he is playing against or what pitcher he is facing.
“That kind of stuff puts some unwanted pressure on yourself if you try to make it bigger than what it is — who you are facing, what park you are in or what pitcher you are facing. It makes no difference to me. I’m just excited to be here.”
And Bell, the coaches, his teammates and the fans are even more excited that he is.
During his first five games with the Reds, he wore five different uniforms — the home whites, the home red-tops, two throwbacks and the road uniform.
“That’s a record I don’t think ever will be broken,” he said. There are many other less superficial records ahead for Senzel to break.