President of baseball operations Dick Williams is keeping quiet on specifics of the Cincinnati Reds managerial search

President of baseball operations Dick Williams is keeping quiet on specifics of the Cincinnati Reds managerial search

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Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen will make his first start since 2015 when he takes the mound Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers. Bobby Nightengale, Cincinnati Enquirer

My wife was listening when I interviewed Dick Willams about the managerial search.

When I hung up, she allowed this: “Boy, that was a whole lot of nothing.”

Astute observation, Laura.

Williams, the Reds president of baseball operations, did not reveal anything about the search that we did not already know. Current interim manager Jim Riggleman will get an interview. Williams would not even say if the other obvious candidate, Barry Larkin, will get an interview.

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Williams also said the Reds will not make the list of candidates public. We’ll get to what he said shortly, but let’s start with what I think.

I think if they’re going to go with a manager with experience – a traditional pick, if you will – Riggleman will get the job. 

He’s done enough since taking over for Bryan Price to show the front office that he can get a lot out of this team. He would be a slam dunk if the Reds had won more. It would be hard not to hire him if the team played .500 or better since he over. The fact that hasn’t happened is more a product of the roster than anything Riggleman did. 

It was telling that when Joey Votto went on the disabled list that the Reds used catchers Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali as first baseman in his stead. Both are having decent years offensively, but there should be better options in the system. 

But back to managerial search. If the Reds go the route many teams have taken recently and go with a non-traditional pick, i.e., someone without experience as a manager, who will it be? That’s impossible to say because it’s so wide open.

When the New York Yankees job opened, who would have guessed that Aaron Boone would have gotten the job? By the way, if the Reds decide to go that route and bring someone from the booth, I think they should look at Eduardo Perez.  He’s a smart guy, well-schooled in the analytical side of the game. He has some coaching experience. And the fans would love the hire. 

Here’s what Williams had to say:

Question: Where does the search stand?

Answer: We’ve been work on it for a while. I don’t think you’ll see much if any public comment on where we are as we go through it. I don’t think we’ll be announcing as we interview people or anything like that. We’ll let the process run. We’ll go through a thorough search with internal or external candidates. I certainly anticipate sitting down with Jim soon after at the end of the season and discussing the season with him.

Q: Have you interviewed anyone so far?

A: No.

Q: The guy that always comes up is Barry Larkin. Will he be a candidate?

A: We haven’t finalized our list year honestly. He’s definitely among the internal group of people that will be discussed. We aren’t that far in the process where we’ve decided what we’re going to do?

Q: Jim would fall under the traditional manager category. He has big league experience, minor league experience. Will there be guys that you will look with a different criteria, a different background?

A: I think so. We owe it to ourselves to try to be open-minded to the background of the candidates. I think it will depend on the individual and the qualities that they possess. Certainly, coaching experience and managing experience have value. But those aren’t the criteria that we’ll use to eliminate candidates. In other words, you won’t have to have managed to be a candidate.

Q: Once you get a list, do you know how many you’ll bring in?

A: It will depend on the candidates. It’s hard to start with a number in mind. 

Q: Will there be guys on the list in the postseason where you have to wait that out? Will that be a factor:

A: It’s a possibility. There certainly are names that we want to talk to. We haven’t narrowed that group down to where we already know who we’re going to talk with. There are definitely coaches on those postseason teams that we’re going to take into account when we run the process. Sometimes, you can work around that. They don’t necessarily have to wait until the postseason is concluded. Sometimes there are gaps between series when you can do an interview.

Learning the outfield could help Cincinnati Reds top prospect Nick Senzel reach the Majors

Learning the outfield could help Cincinnati Reds top prospect Nick Senzel reach the Majors

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Scott Schebler talks about Luis Castillo’s start and the Reds’ 3-1 victory over the Dodgers. The Reds have a 6-0 record vs. the Dodgers this year. Bobby Nightengale, Cincinnati Enquirer

CHICAGO – Nick Senzel, the Reds’ top-ranked prospect, was drafted as a third baseman. He played shortstop in Spring Training earlier this year, then primarily played second base during the minor league season.

Next up: the outfield.

Senzel, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, will learn the outfield during the instructional league, which begins Sunday. Games will start in October.

He missed the final two months of the minor league season because of a fractured right index finger, but he’s started hitting and shouldn’t be limited in the instructional league.

“We’ve said all along that we believe that Nick is an elite infielder and has a long-term future as an elite infielder,” said Dick Williams, the Reds’ President of Baseball Operations. “But he’s also one of those guys that’s shown us the ability to kind of tackle every challenge that we’ve put in front of him. He’s shown his value at multiple infield positions. We want to see what we have in him in the outfield.

“This isn’t driven by who is and isn’t performing at the Major League level. This is about Nick, seeing what he can do out there.”

Senzel is ranked as the No. 4 prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com. He hit .310 with six homers and 25 RBI in 44 games at Triple-A Louisville this season.

He missed about a month of the season because of vertigo. His season ended on June 22 when he fractured his finger on a throw to the plate.

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When Senzel was healthy earlier this year, the Reds’ front office cited everyday playing time as one of the main reasons he wasn’t promoted to the Majors.

“We think and know he can help us in the infield,” Williams said. “That’s very much in our plans for the future. But we’ve got an elite infield at the Major League level right now and everybody sees that. The more ways he can find to help the Major League team, the more value he’s going to have to us and the more likely he is to crack the Major League roster.”

The more positions Senzel plays, the more likely he can be used like Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant, who has started a game at four different spots this year.

Cody Bellinger, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, started a game against the Reds at first base and center field earlier this week.

“You’re talking about contending ballclubs with top players that are moving from the infield to the outfield in certain situations,” Williams said. “We’d love to know that Nick is one of those players that can do that.”

Williams said the front office believes Senzel has enough athleticism to play center field, but Senzel will spend most of his time learning left field.  

“I think we’ll focus on left field first,” Williams said. “In many ways, that’s the most difficult to play. We won’t be splitting time equally between the three. But since that is the most difficult, we’ll probably start him there, just so he gets more time at the one that’s the most difficult.”

The Reds’ final game in the instructional league is Oct. 13. If the Reds wanted to give Senzel more time in the outfield, an option could be the Arizona Fall League, which runs through the middle of November.

If Senzel’s experiment in the outfield is a success, it puts him in a better position to make his Major League debut next season. 

“Obviously, in today’s game and with our constraints, the more roster flexibility we have, the more positional flexibility we have, the more dangerous of a club we can be,” Williams said. “We just want to give him the opportunity to get some instruction out there and get some innings out there.”

The Reds are halfway to fielding a competitive team, and here's what they need to return to relevancy in 2019

The Reds are halfway to fielding a competitive team, and here's what they need to return to relevancy in 2019

The Cincinnati Reds will finish below .500 and outside of the playoff picture for a fifth consecutive season. Yet unlike in years past, this version of the Reds provides some hope.

Silly as it may sound, the Reds are halfway to fielding a competitive team. According to FanGraphs’ catch-all offensive stat of choice (wRC+), the Reds have the 12th-best offense in baseball, tied with the Atlanta Braves and ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers — or, potentially, more than half the National League playoff field. With one exception (Scooter Gennett), all the Reds’ most productive hitters — Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto, Jesse Winker, Scott Schebler, and Jose Peraza — are under contract through at least the 2022 season. Add in top prospects Nick Senzel, Taylor Trammell, and Jonathan India, selected fifth in this year’s draft, as well as a handful of others who are a few tiers down, and the Reds have hitters.

What the Reds need, then, is pitchers — specifically starters.

The Reds have the fourth-worst rotation ERA in baseball, worse even than the messes put forth by the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals. Put another way, the Reds have started nine pitchers at least three times this season — one of them has an ERA+ better than 90 (Matt Harvey, naturally), and just three others have an ERA south of 5.00.

Theoretically, the Reds could justify entering next season with three of their current starters: Anthony DeSclafani, Luis Castillo, and Tyler Mahle. Say the Reds retain Harvey, who is set to qualify for free agency. That would enable them to give the fifth spot to Cody Reed or some other young arm who merits a look. The problem with that is — well, the Reds don’t have much in terms of promising pitching prospects. There’s Hunter Greene, the former No. 2 pick in the draft … but he’s a teenager trying to get his sea legs in A-ball. Otherwise, just two Reds pitching prospects are average or better per MLB.com: Tony Santillan and Vladimir Gutierrez.

Sure, maybe someone reading is higher on Josiah Gray, or thinks that Sal Romano and/or Brandon Finnegan and/or whomever deserves another shot at making it big. But it probably wouldn’t hurt the Reds to at least consider turning some of their hitting surplus into an arm. Heck, they could make their team more balanced and better by simply trading Gennett, who will qualify for free agency next winter, and who has a near ready-made heir in Senzel.

The biggest hurdle there is that the free-agent market is loaded with second basemen: Daniel Murphy, Brian Dozier, Ian Kinsler, Jed Lowrie, and DJ LeMahieu, among others. The other hurdles include the Reds’ desire to manipulate Senzel’s service time, and finding a willing partner. Would the Washington Nationals take Gennett for Tanner Roark? What about the Los Angeles Dodgers and Alex Wood? The Los Angeles Angels and Tyler Skaggs? Who knows.

The Reds don’t have to trade Gennett, and even if they do move him they might prefer to get a prospect package in return. Still, if they want to get serious about fielding a competitive team — and avoiding a sixth consecutive losing season — then trading some of their hitters, either veterans or prospects, for some arms is a scenario worth considering.

Michael Lorenzen has become the Cincinnati Reds' version of an in-game 'stopper'

Michael Lorenzen has become the Cincinnati Reds' version of an in-game 'stopper'

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Michael Lorenzen talks about his grand slam. Wochit

Cincinnati Reds right-handed pitcher Michael Lorenzen has never lacked confidence. Upon his return from the disabled list last year, Lorenzen said this: 

“Do I believe I can be a great starter in the major leagues? Of course,” he said. “Do I believe I can be a great closer, a reliever in the major leagues? Of course. Do I believe great center fielder in the major leagues? I do.”

But Lorenzen’s role has morphed into something he didn’t mention. He’s become a new-age “stopper.” The term stopper used to refer to a staff ace, the guy who could stop a losing streak. There aren’t many of those around anymore. 

Lorenzen is an in-game stopper. When he’s at his best, he can stop the momentum that an offense has built against a struggling starter. 

With Reds Interim Manager Jim Riggleman using the quick hook for struggling starters, Lorenzen’s role has become increasingly important. Lorenzen is ideal for it because he’s durable, pitch-efficient, is always willing to take the ball and he can hit. 

“He wants to pitch every day,” Riggleman said.

Lorenzen, the 25-year-old right-hander, is 3-1 with a 3.27 ERA over 41 appearances and 66 innings.

Lorenzen went three innings and 2 ⅓ innings his last two outings. How much rest did that require?

“Just a day,” he said.

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Lorenzen has gone four or more innings three times, three innings three times and two innings and a fraction three times. He says there’s really been no adjustment to the new role.

“It seems like I’ve never had a role since I’ve been in professional baseball – reliever, starter,” he said. “I’ve been thrown in the bullpen while I was starting. I’m used to it, doing different roles or whatever they need. I like not knowing, necessarily. It’s kind of fun. 

“I come to the ballpark thinking something neat might happen today. I look forward to it.”

Lorenzen is at 66 innings, despite starting the year on the disabled list. If he’s healthy all of next year, he could get 100 innings as a reliever. 

“Easy,” he said. “I’m on pace for around 80 innings this year. That would be easy.”

Lorenzen is actually on pace for 73 innings. His current pace would project to 97 innings over a full season. 

The 100-inning reliever has become rare. Right now, Oakland’s Yusmeiro Petit and Jesse Chavez, now with the Chicago Cubs after starting the year with Texas, are on pace for 95 innings. That’s the most among pitchers who haven’t started a game. 

Leading baseball with fewer than 100 relief innings is a relatively recent development. Scott Sullivan threw 100-plus innings for the Reds four straight years from 1998-2001. 

Lorenzen says he’s equipped to do that now more than in the past.

“Going through the struggles last year with mechanics helped me figure out my mechanics,” he said. “If the mechanics are bad, it’s harder to recover. You’re going to be sore every day, like I was last year. You come up sore and need more time to recover. 

“If you have a good understanding of your mechanics, you’re hitting your positions properly that you need to hit while pitching. You’re going to recover better because your body’s working the way it should.”

Lorenzen often plays a dual role. He’ll enter the game as a pinch-hitter for the starter, then stay in to pitch. That’s a bit of an adjustment.

“There are times when I’m running back and forth from the bullpen to the dugout, ‘hey, you’re going to hit,’ ” he said. “Then I get to the dugout, and things change, so I’ve got to go back to the bullpen and continue to warm up. Or I’m on the bench, and they need me to pitch, so I’ve got to run to the bullpen and get ready. There are situations like that, that are different.”

If Riggleman’s back as manager, Lorenzen will likely continue in his current role. Riggleman has consistently pulled starters in the third and fourth innings. If you do that, you need someone to fill the gap to the back of the bullpen.

“Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do,” Lorenzen said. “They know what I want to do.”

That’s start, right? 

Lorenzen just smiles. There’s that confidence. But, again, his current role could be as valuable as a starting role.

Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Luis Castillo, Joe Musgrove more than just matchups plays

Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Luis Castillo, Joe Musgrove more than just matchups plays

I will not write about Tyler White again. I will not write about Tyler White again. I will not write about Tyler White again.

TYLER WHITE, YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN!

I realize it’s a slow time of year, and the waiver wire fire isn’t stoked as easily when so few still have skin in the game. But German Marquez has made the slow climb to 89 percent ownership over the past few weeks. I feel like White, with another home run Tuesday, has become sort of the hitter equivalent.

We’re talking almost six weeks now of a sustained 1.000 OPS, complete with a modest strikeout rate, a reasonable BABIP and a mountain of minor-league data supporting it.

Is he really the fourth-best first baseman in Fantasy, as the numbers since July 28 suggest? Hey, as light as the position has become at the top, it’s not so far-fetched. I’d bet against it in the long run, but we’re not so concerned about the long run now, are we? If you got excited about Jesus Aguilar once upon a time, there’s no reason not to get excited about White now.

The upside is palpable, the contributions immediate, the red flags few and far between. Bats like his are what you dream of finding on the waiver wire this time of year, so don’t be like the guy who passed over Marquez.

Or wait … was that you?

So is a 4.84 ERA something to get excited about now? Don’t get distracted — it’s everything else Joe Musgrove is doing during that six-start stretch that has my attention. He went from having a 10 percent swinging-strike rate in his first 12 starts to better than 14 percent in those latest six, which would put him in the top 10 among qualifying pitchers alongside Justin Verlander. Once again, the earned runs were a little high in Tuesday’s start (four in six innings), but those who started him against the Cardinals probably aren’t feeling too many regrets today. I’m going to bet on that strikeout-to-walk ratio every time.

It took guts to start Luis Castillo against the Dodgers on Tuesday given how erratic he has been all year, but he came through, continuing the more recent trend of piling up whiffs with his changeup to give him 38 strikeouts to just four walks in 28 innings over his past five starts. Of course, he did serve up three home runs against the Padres last time out, but with a 2.89 ERA in those past five, the 24-year-old is peaking at the right time and is a promising option with a projected two starts next week.

Glasnow, like Musgrove and Castillo, lines up for two starts next week, so those who dumped him after his seven-run disaster last time out might want to get back on board. He didn’t have a great feel for his breaking ball in that start and was short on whiffs in Tuesday’s rebound effort as well, but he shut down one of the majors’ best lineups by getting back to the basics, throwing 73 percent of his pitches for strikes. That’s been the key for him since joining the Rays, with whom he has had just the one bad start.

Brad Boxberger has blown one game too many in September, compelling the Diamondbacks to adopt a by-committee approach to the ninth inning. But when do those ever last? Yoshihisa Hirano got the first post-Boxberger save Tuesday, and his main competition for saves, Archie Bradley, has also faltered of late. Hirano doesn’t have a typical closer profile, but he brings plenty of closing experience from Japan and would get to close for a team in the thick of the playoff race.

In retrospect, it makes sense that Michael Conforto would need a few months to regain his power stroke after having surgery to repair torn shoulder capsule late last year, and it seems to be playing out that way judging by his first- and second-half splits. He homered for the third straight game and fifth time in eight games Tuesday, giving him a second-half ISO that’s basically on par with last season’s. The BABIP still hasn’t normalized completely either.

If you didn’t already pick up Brad Keller for this week, bad news: It’s probably his last two-start week of the season. The way he has pitched lately, though, most recently giving up one run in seven innings to the White Sox on Tuesday, suggests he’s still usable even in one-start weeks, especially when that one start is against the Tigers, like next week. He doesn’t have a high ceiling as a pitch-to-contact guy, but his elite ground-ball rate, which would be top-five in all the majors if he had the innings to qualify, gives him a high floor.

What's a hitter to do?: When Cincinnati Reds switch hitters face a switch pitcher

What's a hitter to do?: When Cincinnati Reds switch hitters face a switch pitcher

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Reds reliever Jared Hughes earned the win Monday against the Dodgers. He escaped a bases-loaded jam against Yaisel Puig in the 7th inning. Bobby Nightengale, Cincinnati Enquirer

Preparing to hit leadoff in the fifth inning Monday, Tucker Barnhart stood on the on-deck circle between innings with two helmets and two shin guards.

Ready to take some warm-up swings before his second at-bat against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Barnhart didn’t know which batter’s box he was going to fill.

It’s one thing when an opposing team brings in a new pitcher and he’s forced to switch sides. But Monday’s situation was new for him.

Barnhart, a switch-hitter, wasn’t quite sure which helmet or shin guard to put on against Dodgers pitcher Pat Venditte, a switch pitcher. Barnhart waved from the on-deck circle, waiting for Venditte to declare which hand he was going to use, then laughed.

“I was trying to get his attention while he was warming up, just so I could get my leg guard on if I was hitting left-handed,” Barnhart said. “It’s interesting, for sure. It’s something you never see.”

Venditte is the only ambidextrous pitcher in the Majors. He typically throws with the arm that gives him the best platoon matchup: lefty vs. lefty or righty vs. righty.

Major League Baseball adopted a rule in 2008, during Venditte’s first season in the minor leagues, that a pitcher must declare which hand he will use before the start of an at-bat. A switch pitcher can’t change hands until the end of an at-bat, except in the cases of an injury.

Venditte threw right-handed to Barnhart, inducing a groundout to second base. Barnhart said he faced Venditte once in the minor leagues: Venditte threw as a lefty.

“It’s something that you obviously never see,” Barnhart said. “I don’t know if you’ll ever see it again unless it’s him. It’s impressive that he can do that from both sides.”

Was Barnhart surprised Venditte used a different hand than before?

“I think he knew if I was up there right-handed, I would use a Show Bat,” Barnhart deadpanned as teammate Scooter Gennett laughed nearby. “But left-handed I can’t get my model right for the left side.”

Three batters later, it was switch-hitting Billy Hamilton’s turn to face Venditte for the first time in his career. He brought both helmets to the on-deck circle, placing one atop the backstop.

When Hamilton started walking toward the plate, he looked toward home-plate umpire Larry Vanover for clarification. A bat boy stood next to Hamilton, waiting to return one of the helmets back to the dugout.

Venditte raised his left arm, forcing Hamilton to hit as a righty. In the batter’s box, it’s back to business as usual. The five-pitch at-bat ended with a fly out.

“We’ve always got a cage in here, so we can hit during the innings and stuff,” Hamilton said. “I knew he was pitching that inning, so I went and got loose hitting right handed and left handed. It’s pretty cool to actually see that, though, to be honest.”

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MATHEMATICALLY OUT: Despite Monday’s victory against the Dodgers, the Reds were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs when the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Cardinals, sitting in the second wild-card position, pushed the Reds’ elimination number to zero.

The Reds have not made the playoffs since 2013.

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GUERRERO STARTS: Reds rookie Gabriel Guerrero earned his first Major League start Tuesday, playing in center field.

Jim Riggleman, the Reds’ interim manager, said it was just a regular day off for Billy Hamilton and Joey Votto. Brandon Dixon started at first base.

Guerrero, the nephew of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, entered Tuesday hitless in his first four big league at-bats.

“I feel blessed to be in the lineup today,” Guerrero said. “It’s a good feeling.”

Guerrero, who hit .292 with 17 homers at Triple-A Louisville this season, said he’s comfortable playing all three outfield positions. 

His cousin, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., is considered the top prospect in baseball. Another uncle, Wilton Guerrero, played in the Majors. 

“It is cool,” Guerrero said. “It’s family. We grew up in baseball. It’s good.”