By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Scooter Gennett wore a red tank top to a pre-game media interview session before Friday night’s game. There was no Superman cape visible anywhere.
Social media is awash with brash statements about how Gennett’s return to the lineup is destined to turn the season in favor of the Cincinnati Reds, that the team will score runs and take names later.
While optimism is an excellent trait, realism must enter at some point. And the reality is that the Reds have more problems than the second baseman who missed the first half of the season. One man, one player, is not going to turn the Reds into The Big Red Machine reincarnate.
Nevertheless, it is a plus to have the plucky Gennett back on the field and in the batter’s box, even though there is probably more rust on his body than a mothballed battleship.
Manager David Bell immediately inserted Gennett into the lineup and inked him in at sixth in the batting order to face the Chicago Cubs.
Gennett is going to play as much as physically possible, which puts limitations on the playing time for some players, mostly Derek Dietrich.
Bell, though, does have a flimsy plan. Dietrich will spell Gennett when he needs time off. In addition, Dietrich is versatile enough that Bell will play him in left field, right field and first base when Jesse Winker, Yasiel Puig and Joey Votto need days offs.
In other words, Dietrich becomes a utility player, pinch-hitter and Johnny-Do-Everything.
Asked about the high expectations and the cape, Gennett laughed and said, “I don’t own one. Really, it’s not just what I can do in the box or out there on the field. It’s contributing in other ways, being a good teammate. If guys are struggling, I can give them a slap on the back and say, ‘OK, you’ve got this.’ That’s just as important.
“I don’t think that’s Superman, that’s just somebody who cares about the team and not just about themselves,” he said.
Isn’t it strange how baseball works? Three years ago the Milwaukee Brewers pushed Gennett out the door, released him. The Reds signed him, cost them nothing other than a meager salary. Now Gennett is expected to lead the Reds out of the deep forest of last place.
“It’s so nice to have him back,” said Bell. “He has worked so hard. Looking back at that day in spring training (when Gennett injured his groin), that was tough to see. But to know what he has gone through, to get back to this point, he and the medical staff deserve a lot of credit.”
Even though Gennett missed 78 games he is back on the field quicker than Bell expected.
“He is a big part of this team, on and off the field,” Bell added. “There is no question he is going to help us. He is a big part of our offense and has been the last couple of years. I anticipate he’ll get back at it and he is going to play a lot. It is going to be fun each day to put him in the lineup.”
That suits Gennett exquisitely. Watching games on TV was not fun and watching games from the dugout was even less fun.
Gennett, though, says he learned things from watching games on TV and it wasn’t just which car to buy, which beer to drink and which wireless service to use.
“I watched games on TV and thinking back, I wondered, ‘Why am I not getting pitches to hit?’” he said. “Why are they pitching me like Barry Bonds? Why? Because I was swinging at all those pitches, so there was no reason for them to pitch to me.
“I watched certain hitters with the approach close to myself and watched how the pitchers were throwing them and learning. And I thought, ‘Wow, I’m just giving away at bats. What was I doing? It took me not playing, just sitting at home watching TV, getting out of my normal baseball mind-set, to see the light.
“I learned a lot, I learned I had to have a plan every time I go to the plate,” he added. “It can’t be if it looks like a strike I am going to swing. I’ve done a pretty good, productive job. But there is a lot more in there.”
Gennett said his plan could be to go to the plate looking for a curveball, “And if he throws me three straight fastballs and I strike out at least I can go to bed that night knowing I had a plan.”
Strike out on three pitches? That’ not what the fans are expecting. He may look like Clark Kent, but the fans are expecting him to be faster than a speeding pitch, be able to leap tall outfield fences in a single bound and more powerful than Redzilla.
TO MAKE ROOM FOR Gennett, the Reds placed catcher Tucker Barnhart on the 10-day injured list with a strained oblique.
Bell realizes strained obliques take a long time to heal and Barnhart will miss considerable time. That leaves Curt Casali as the No. 1 catcher and Kyle Farmer as the back-up.
Strangely, Farmer’s vocation is catcher, but not once this season has Bell used him behind the plate. He has played third base, second base and first base.
Bell said Farmer has worked behind the plate to stay ready, “And we know he can catch. Give credit in that even though he hasn’t caught during the season he has worked very hard to stay on top of his catching skills. It is tough to lose Tucker because he is a big part of this team and we’ll miss him
“While Tucker is out, Curt (Casali) will get a lot of the playing time,” said Bell. “We’ll definitely look for spots to get Kyle back there to get him re-acclimated from a game standpoint. He has done everything on the side and in practice to keep his skills ready.”