CINCINNATI — The accepted explanation for the sudden success of the Cincinnati Reds involves the rebuilt bullpen, much-improved starting pitching and explosive and efficient batwork.
Manager Bryan Price accepts all those theories as to why the Reds are 20-12 since the All-Star break, second best record in the majors, but he mixes in another facet.
It is the bench, the extra players, the guys who are nearly always forgotten until they either do something good or mess up.
THE REDS CONTINUE TO have their unfair share of injuries during this resurgence — shortstop Zack Cozart, second baseman Brandon Phillips, center fielder Billy Hamilton and left fielder Adam Duvall all have had their down time since the All-Star break.
But thanks to guys like Ivan DeJesus Jr., Ramon Cabrera, Tyler Holt, Tony Renda and Jose Peraza, players who have stepped in and stepped up, the beat goes on.
“Everybody is overlooking it, but when we plug in Renda, Holt, DeJesus and Cabrera, they are doing the job,” said Price. “All of them have been contributors to a team that has been winning at a high rate recently.
“It is import to be able to plug in those players and feel like you are not skipping a beat,” he added. “They have done a super job and they should be acknowledged for that.”
IVAN DeJESUS JR., is exhibit A as to what it takes to be a successful fill-in because Price can plug him in at almost anywhere on the field and get juice from that plug-in.
“He works hard at it and if you just sit and watch his whole pre-game workout, you’ll see him move around the middle infield (shortstop/second base) where he plays primarily,” said Price. “But he goes to third base, he’ll take ground balls at first base and he moves out to left field, even though I haven’t utilized him there. He’ll still take balls off the bat out there and when we have the outfielders throw to bases he’ll go out there and throw to bases.”
It is a difficult task for a relatively young player. The 28-year-old Puerto Rican is the son of an excellent former major league infielder who played 14 years for the Dodgers, Cubs, Phillies, Yankee, Cardinals, Giants and Tigers. (How’d he miss the Reds?). Junior was a No. 2 draft pick by the Dogers in 2005 and spent six years in the minors before playing his first major league game. But he has spent most of his baseball life on minor-league buses and entering this season had only played in 124 major league games, 76 of those last year with the Reds after they signed him as a minor-league free agent.
“In addition to really working hard, he gives us our most efficient bat off the bench against left handed or right handed pitchers,” Price added. “It doesn’t bother me one bit when he goes up against a right handed pitcher. I have great expectations he will give us a great at bat in a tough role. He is not under our radar as a coaching staff. He is an unsung hero.”
SCOTT SCHEBLER, JOSE PERAZA and Ivan DeJesus Jr., are all former Los Angeles Dodgers, all anxious to play roles in ruining their former team’s quest to win the National League West.
Schebler and Peraza were in Saturday’s lineup, Schebler in right field and Peraza at shortstop after his Saturday recall from Louisville to play for ailing Zack Cozart.
“Cozart is a little banged up with his Achilles tendon and I don’t want to put him on the field for a couple of days,” said Price. “We want the swelling and soreness out of the Achilles.”
THE REDS HAD AN eight-man bullpen and a four-man bench (three with Cozart out), so they optioned pitcher Keyvius Sampson to Louisville and recalled infielder/outfielder Peraza to cover Cozart’s absence.
“I wasn’t comfortable with a three-man bench,” said Price. “And while he is here Peraza is going to get some starts at shortstop and we’ll move him around while he is here. He is here just to give us a boost.”
Peraza and Schebler both came from the Dodgers in the three-team trade that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox. Schebler and Peraza both made their major league debuts with the Dodgers.
“I’m not sure Peraza has as much allegiance to the Dodgers as I have because he came up through the Braves system,” said Schebler. “It’s fun to play against the Dodgers, play against your buddies. And then to beat up on them (9-2 Friday night) is even better and always helps to give you some bragging rights. That’s always fun.”
SCHEBLER CAME UP THROUGH the Dodgers system with infielder Corey Seager and outfielder Joc Pederson, both emerging stars. Schebler and Seager were roommates at High-A, Double-A and Triple-A.
“Seager was my best buddy,” said Schebler. “Everybody keeps asking me if I saw it coming (how good Seager is) and I knew 1,000 per cent he was going to be the player he is right now.” Seager is hitting .313/.363/.531 with 21 homers, 34 doubles and 57 RBI.
“You spend enough time around him, a couple of years playing with him, you can tell who is going to be a guy like that,” said Schebler. “He is playing up to his abilities for sure and there is more in his tank. He’ll be even better next year and he has incredible numbers this year. He is an awesome guy, a better person than he is a player, which is really saying something.”
Amazingly, Seager has a brother, Kyle, playing for the Seattle Mariners and another brother, Justin, playing in the Seattle system. “I know them all and Corey and Kyle are real quiet, shy away from the media. But Justin is the outgoing one. Kinda funny, three brothers with different personalities.”
But all possess top-shelf baseball talent.