CINCINNATI — Few things appear to bother Jesse Winker, who approaches the batter’s box as if it is his private office and he functions in it with total professionalism.
Oh, there is one thing. Why do people constantly call him Winkler, inserting an ‘l’ into his name? Surely it isn’t because fans think of him as Henry Winkler, who was ‘The Fonz’ on the old Happy Days television series.
“I don’t get it,” he says. “There is no ‘l’ in my name, but people pronounce it as if it is there. It has happened my entire life, but it doesn’t bother me as much as it does my brother. He gets hot about it.”
The more Winker produces, the more familiar his name will become. Right now, even though he gets every fourth game off as part of the Cincinnati Reds four-man outfield theme, he is leading the team with a .312 batting average and owns a .420 on base average, even better than Joey Votto’s .408.
And he has supplanted Billy Hamilton as the team’s leadoff hitter, even though Hamilton would beat him in the 100-yard dash by about 25 yards.
Is speed that necessary atop the order? The Reds once had a leadoff hitter who didn’t run fast. Pete Rose. And he did pretty well, didn’t he?
Manager Jim Riggleman quickly identifies Winker’s value, although he is amazed at his plate discipline.
“There are some guys at an early age who just hava a knack for knowing the strike zone and that’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “He gets into deeper counts and takes his walks. Obviouly, Joey Votto has been doing that for a long time. I think Winker is the first hitter we’ve brought here in several years who has as much grasp of what is a ball and what is a strike.”
Winker could not care less where he hits in the order and as he said without cracking a smile, “I don’t care where I hit. As long as I have a bat in my hand. I feel that if I hit no matter where I’m put that gives the manager some flexibility with his batting order. I never put much weight as to where I hit in the lineup. I just hope I’m in it.”
Of his fast start coming out of spring training, Winker said, “Yeah, it has been solid and it is what I wanted coming out of spring training, it is what I expect of myself. And I just have to keep going. I’ve said this from the beginning, it is a really, really good lineup behind me. Leading off for them makes it really easy for me. With Joey in the three-spot I’m always going to get a lot of good pitches to hit.”
And unlike most young players, if he doesn’t get those pitches to hit he takes them and takes his walks.
“I try to be a tough out even in games when I feel I’m not driving the ball or not getting hits,” he added. “I try to string together some good at bats, whether that’s a walk or a line drive.”
MANAGER JIM RIGGLEMAN was a bit taken aback, but neither shocked nor suprised, that the 30 major league teams struck out more times than they got hits in the month of April. It was the first time in Major League history that there were more strikeouts than hits in a month. There were 6.992 hits and 7,335 strikeouts.
“Really? Didn’t know that. Never happened before, huh?” said Riggleman. “Wow.’
And it may not be the last because, as Riggleman said, that’s the way baseball is trending.
“That’s the direction baseball is going,” he said. “The strikeout isn’t frowned upon the way it was back in the day. Some big-time power hitters were not liking it if they struck out 100 times in a year.
“But it is the way the game is designed right now,” he added. “There is less hitting-and-running, less stolen bases, fewer bunts. There is a lot of slugging and that’s where we are. The game is cyclical and I think it will come back the other way eventually. It will take some time. We’ve been going in this direction for more than a few years.”
ROSELL HERRERA won’t forget May Day of 2018. It was the day he started his first major league game, playing second base for the Reds, and collected his first major league hit. It was a sharp single to right field in his first at bat.
“That felt awesome, a very good experience for me,” he said. “I got the ball and I’m gonna save it for the rest of my life. It was a fastball away. I’m going to always remember the pitch and the pitcher (Milwaukee’s Chase Anderson) for the rest of my life.”
Herrera started in place of sore-shouldered Scooter Bennett and was back on the bench Wednesday with Alex Blandino playing second.
“I feel very good, very great, for the opportunity to play,” said Herrera. “I have to take advantage of every opportunity they give me.”
WHILE ALEX BLANDINO didn’t start Tuesday’s game he came out of the dugout as part of a late-game double switch. He led the seventh inning with a first-pitch home run off Jacob Barnes, his first major-league home run.
“Any time you hit a home run it feels great, but to get the first one in the majors out of the way is pretty special,” said Blandino. “It helped us get one run closer (7-6, but thats the way it stayed). That makes it a lot easier to come back when you are only down one.”
Blandino said the pitch was a cutter and he was looking for it. “It was a cutter that didn’t cut and he’s thrown at least one to me every time I faced him.”
A fan in the left field stands made a backhanded catch and was outside the clubhouse after the game to make a trade. “It cost me a bat and that was OK with me. The guy made a great catch out there, too.”
The baseball is headed for Blandino’s grandmother, Mary Ann Field in Mountain View, Calif., after he gave the ball from his first hit to his father.