For one day at least, Michael Lorezen pushed his way back into the wide-open scramble for one of three or four pitching rotation spots up for hire with the 2016 Cincinnati Reds.
After a string of ugly and distasteful starts that included six straight losses from late June until early August, the 23-year-old right hander with the religious messages tattooed on his left arm, was exiled to Louisville.
For Lorenzen, the Fountain of Youth wasn’t in Florida, it was in the Bluegrass State. In three starts he was 2-1 with a 1.13 earned run average. His loss was 4-2 and the opposition scored no runs in his other two starts.
It was enough to get Lorenzen a ticket to ride back to Cincinnati and on a humid Sunday afternoon in Great American Ball Park, he displayed what he recaptured in Louisville.
He held the Milwaukee Brewers to no runs and three hits for five innings while his Reds teammates constructed a five-run lead.
Behind three hits each by Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, including two-run home runs by each, the Reds salvaged the final game of the three-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers, 6-3.
The indicator on Lorenzen’s fuel line hit ‘E’ in the sixth inning when he gave up two runs and four hits before Sam LeCure was sent to the mound on a rescue mission.
One of Lorenzen’s major problems during his 0-7 slide for life was control and command — too many walks and too many misplaced pitches that sailed out of the park.
On Sunday he walked one during his 5 1/3 innings and only one of the eight hits he gave up was for extra bases. That was a double to open the sixth by Jonathan Lucroy that was the beginning of the end of Lorenzen’s day.
The Louisville Experience, though, was a game-changer for Lorenzen.
On Aug. 11, Lorenzen lost his sixth straight when he gave up seven runs and seven hits in San Diego over just 1 1/3 innings and manager Bryan Price had an inkling a demotion was coming.
“We talked for about 30 minutes after that start that wasn’t good in San Diego and I had a feeling he might be sent down,” said Price. “I prepped him for it, but we talked a long time just about pitching. A lot of it was mechanical, but even more was about aggression that goes with being a major league pitcher.
“You have to trust your stuff and work ON THE PLATE,” said Price. “I’ve always said pitching is an offensive position, not a defensive position. If your mindset is, ‘I’m going to trust my stuff and attack the strike zone you can understand what changes you can make if you have to make changes. If you are walking guys and pitching behind, you should know why you are not having the success you need.”
To his credit, Lorenzen took the demotion for what it was — a learning experience, a tune-up, a refresher course in the art of pitching.
“It is important for every pitcher to throw strikes and get ahead and since I’ve been back that’s what I’ve tried to do,” he said. “I’ve worked on a mindset of not worrying about what a hitter might do and that has taken a lot of stress away and removed pressure from my shoulders so I can throw the pitch I want and where I want it. I live in the strike zone more now.”
Lorenzen said when he struggled he worried when he got behind in the count what might happen to any fastball he threw.
“It’s easy to think they might be on that fastball and you miss by a little bit,” he said. “It is not my job to think that they might be on it. It’s my job to just throw it and it has been working.”
The catcher Lorenzen worked with in Louisville, Ramon Cabrera (Louisville’s MVP), was promoted last week and he made his major league starting debut Sunday to catch Lorenzen
It was no accident. Price planned it that way and said, “Matching them together made since because we’ve kind of put them together in Triple-A and Cabrera helped him use all four of his pitches and he mixed them well and kept the Brewers off balance.”
Said Lorenzen, “You have to give Cabrera a lot of credit for the game he called. It was just the way we did it together in Louisville.”
Lorenzen says he feels as if he is back on the straight and narrow — he’ll got straight to throwing strikes and narrowing the zone.
“I feel like myself again,’ he said. “I’m not out there thinking too much or trying to do too much. I’m just having fun and trying to glorify God.