LOUISVILLE – Nick Senzel quickly knocked the rust off Tuesday night, though the reality of a long layoff eventually caught up to him at the plate.
The Cincinnati Reds’ top prospect smacked the second pitch he saw in his season debut at Triple-A Louisville into left field for a base hit. He struck out three times and grounded out in his following four at-bats in the Bats’ 9-2 loss to the Durham Bulls.
"Good to see some pitches, and it’s good to be back there," Senzel said. "… I’m not too worried about it."
Everyone at Slugger Field was reminded, though, that the 23-year-old is still a work-in-progress in center field. He unsuccessfully dove for a fly ball in the second inning, a catchable ball that would have been a great play if Senzel had held on. The potential was obvious, however, when Senzel ranged to his right and made a basket-style catch at the warning track in the top of the sixth inning.
"That ball was hit pretty hard," he said. "I’m just trying to be athletic and be instinctual and go get it. "I may have taken a quick step in and adjusted. All your routes aren’t going to be perfect; just got to catch the ball."
Those lessons, the good and bad and nondescript, are why Senzel is here and not up Interstate 71 in Cincinnati.
How much longer before he’s called up to the big leagues will likely be determined by how quickly he can get comfortable, confident and, most important, consistent in the outfield.
After batting practice earlier in the day, Senzel acknowledged he needs more game reps. Tuesday was just the fifth night game Senzel has played in center field in his entire life, though he said the sky in Louisville was much easier to read than what he encountered in Arizona. A massive amount of information on hand helped, too.
"You’ve got the reports, you’ve got where they get out a lot, where their hits are, where to play them if they’re ahead in the count or behind in the count, stuff like that is pretty helpful," he said.
Just four weeks removed from a right ankle injury that many, including Senzel himself, initially thought was much more serious , Senzel finished Tuesday 1-for-5 at the plate.
After his leadoff single in the bottom of the first, Senzel struck out looking in the third, went down swinging in the fifth and ninth and grounded out in the seventh.
His bat, though, has never been in question.
The No. 6 overall prospect entering 2019 according to MLB.com, Senzel hit .308/.300/.462 and swiped four bases in 12 Cactus League games this spring. He batted .310/.378/.509 in 193 plate appearances at Triple-A last season, limited by bouts with vertigo and a torn finger tendon.
Where the Reds can employ him in the field has always been in need of an answer. The former third baseman has previously spent time at second base and tried out shortstop in spring of 2018 before an opening in center field entering this season appeared to be inevitably his for the taking.
Speaking about his play defensively, Senzel said he felt good about his progress. And he let out an audible sigh of relief and laughed when asked about playing a full game after previously making four abbreviated appearances at the Reds’ facility in Goodyear, Arizona.
The plan, he said, was to play nine again on Wednesday.
"I mean there’s going to be good days and there’s going to be bad days," he said. "I came back pretty quick and felt really good, but there’s going to be days where it’s not going to feel the best because you’re playing everyday and there’s going to be days where it feels great. It’s just kind of one of those things, but I’m still going to go out and play and go from there."
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