Derek Dietrich saw a group of reporters hovering near his locker in the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse, waiting for him to emerge from the weight room or the showers, or wherever he was after a 7-6 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday.
“It was just a bunt,” Dietrich said.
Indeed, on a night when Yasiel Puig hit his first home run as a Red at Great American Ball Park and Tucker Barnhart added a solo home run and Jose Peraza delivered the go-ahead hit with a two-run double — his first RBIs since a home run on Opening Day — it would have been easy to overlook Dietrich’s bunt single in the sixth inning.
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On the other hand, except for fans opposed to bunting in any form at any time, everyone would agree Dietrich’s bunt rivaled any other hit on the night in beauty and importance. Seeing a shift daring him to lay a bunt down the third-base line, the first-year Red took advantage. The Braves had no chance to field it in time. The ball stopped rolling in the grass before pitcher Kevin Gausman reached it.
One batter later, Peraza drove in Jose Iglesias and Dietrich to give the Reds a 5-4 lead. It was just the latest time Dietrich has found himself in the center of the action. He hit a go-ahead three-run home run on Opening Day, hit a tie-breaking solo home run in the seventh inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 13 and hit a tie-breaking two-run home run against the San Diego Padres on Friday.
The Reds (9-13) improved to 8-5 since their 1-8 start with their fourth win in the last five games. Dietrich leads the team with 13 RBIs despite receiving much less playing time than the starters. He has 42 at-bats, 29 fewer than Puig, who ranks second on the team with 12 RBIs.
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“I love the chemistry of this team,” Dietrich said. “I love the way we’re playing the game together. Now we’re playing good baseball all the way around from the first inning to the last inning. In all aspects, it’s starting to come together. No one should get distracted or sidetracked from that first week because now we’re playing good baseball and we’re going to continue to do so.”
Dietrich’s work before the game foreshadowed his bunt single. First-base coach Delino DeShields saw him in the gym at 2:57 p.m. and told him to be on the field to work on bunting at 3.
Dietrich, who entered the game had 65 home runs and one bunt hit in 2,179 career plate appearances thought to himself, “One less chance to hit a home run.” Then he put 15 bunts right on the line in batting practice.
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“In my experience, I haven’t practiced it often, but when I do, I usually have a pretty good feel for it,” Dietrich said. “I was like, ‘Let’s give it a shot here. I saw them move back.’”
Fans often wonder why players don’t try to bunt for a hit against the shift more often. Even Dietrich’s dad, Richard, has questioned his son about it.
“About two weeks ago, my dad’s like, ‘Are you going to try to lay down a bunt with the shift like that?’” Derek said. “I said, ‘Dad, you’re killing me. Usually, you give me some hitting tips that are good.’ I don’t know. I haven’t bunted in a while. I surprised myself. At this stage in the game, I guess I can get better and help in more ways than just hitting the big home run.”
Dietrich was more excited about Peraza’s hit that followed.
“That was huge for us but really good for him,” Dietrich said. “He’s been hitting the ball better of late. To get that knock and get the win for us, that was good.”