Cincinnati Reds: Akiyama getting used to pinch hitting

Reds left fielder Shogo Akiyama makes a catch against the Tigers on Sunday, July 26, 2020, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
Reds left fielder Shogo Akiyama makes a catch against the Tigers on Sunday, July 26, 2020, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Shogo Akiyama made an immediate impact for the Cincinnati Reds when he pinch hit on Opening Day, driving in a run with a single in first big-league at-bat. However, his overall influence was limited in the first four games because he started only two of them.

The Reds signed Akiyama to a three-year, $21 million contract in December, and that number alone seemed to indicate he would be an everyday player. He has not been early this season.

Manager David Bell started him Saturday and Sunday when the Reds faced right-handed starting pitchers but brought him off the bench Friday and Monday when lefties started for the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs.

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“I’m not surprised,” Akiyama said through an interpreter Tuesday. “The team is just utilizing their best starting lineup.”

The Reds dropped to 1-3 with an 8-7 loss to the Cubs on Monday. Akiyama pinch hit for Kyle Farmer in the ninth and walked. He represented the tying run and advanced to third base with one out but was stranded there when Phillip Ervin struck out and Joey Votto lined to center.

Akiyama hit .301 with 20 home runs last season for Seibu in Japan. He started throughout his nine-year career in his home country.

“I’m not used to pinch hitting as much as I have been these past few games,” Akiyama said. “It’s a hard place where I can’t stay back in the cages too long. I’m not sure how much I should be using my time in the dugout or in the back when it’s a time I might not be used. I’m not too worried about how I’ve been preparing. I’m more worried about getting used to this.”

Akiyama could get the chance to face another native of Japan on Thursday. The Cubs start eight-year veteran Yu Darvish in the finale of the four-game series.

Bell praised the job Akiyama, who’s 2-for-7, has done in his role early this season.

“He knows exactly what he’s doing,” Bell said. “Very professional. Low maintenance. I gave him a heads up before the season started. I said at least initially you may not start against a couple of the left-handed starters. He really appreciated that and took it upon himself to find a routine that would keep him ready. He knew he was going to get a lot of pinch-hitting opportunities and likely come into the game as early as the fourth or fifth inning. I know he wants to play, but he’s been really great on how to approach that. You look at what he’s doing. He’s facing all these pitchers and teams for the first time. He’s done a lot of homework. He’s really studied and just handled it well.”

NOTES: Tucker Barnhart came off the paternity list Tuesday. His wife, Sierra, gave birth to a boy, Benson Jude Barnhart, on Saturday. Curt Casali started the first four games at catcher. ... The Reds also placed reliever Robert Stephenson on the 10-day injured list with a mid-back sprain.