Reds hitting coach optimistic about club’s readiness for short season

The Reds’ Jesse Winker smiles in the dugout during a game against the Brewers on Thursday, June 28, 2018, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
caption arrowCaption
The Reds’ Jesse Winker smiles in the dugout during a game against the Brewers on Thursday, June 28, 2018, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

60-game sprint could create mental challenges

With Opening Day only a week away, the question to one of the biggest questions for the 2020 Cincinnati Reds could soon be answered.

Will these guys be able to hit?

New hitting coach Alan Zinter likes what he has seen during Summer Camp at Great American Ball Park.

“I’m very excited with where our hitters are at overall,” he said Wednesday on a videoconference call with reporters. “I think it’s a natural progression. When you do have some downtime, pitchers are always going to seem like they’re way ahead. I don’t know why they seem like they throw 150 miles an hour and lights out breaking pitches.”

ExploreDietrich explains why he joined Reds late

Transitioning from a batting practice setting with a pitcher behind a screen to scrimmages that more mimic real game action has helped the batters catch up in Zinter’s eyes.

“These are major-league hitters, so it takes them a few times a few ABs, a few bullpen sessions to start to see the pitches and then they start to just stay a little bit more compact,” Zinter said. “Their identity comes back, pitch recognition, but I am very pleased with how ABs have gone the last three or four days for sure.”

He spoke highly of several players, including Eugenio Suarez and Nick Senzel, who both look better to him after struggling through recovery from shoulder injuries in the spring.

“I just I don’t see the tentativeness in their swing,” Zinter said. “I see their eyes are not glazed over hoping that it doesn’t hurt like during their injury. So they’re locked in. Their eyes are laser-locked on Opening Day, and it’s really exciting because they’re very good players with a lot of talent.”

Jesse Winker, another player coming back from injuries that ended his season early last year, is also looking good so far this month.

“I love where Wink’s at,” Zinter said. “He’s lettin’ it fly. He’s moving the bat through the zone, and he’s hitting balls to all fields. He’s taken some aggressive hacks for the young man with no regard for any prior or past injuries.”

ExploreZinter tries to stay positive

Not surprisingly, Zinter has enjoyed working with Joey Votto.

The veteran first baseman is also looking to put a down year behind him and look more like the All-Star he was the previous two seasons.

“It’s really cool to see how he goes about his business,” Zinter said. “At this point, he really doesn’t care about the results. He cares about the quality of the AB, the quality of how he sees the ball, and how he’s gone about his business.

caption arrowCaption
The Reds’ Joey Votto singles against the Cubs on Sunday, July 2, 2017, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

The Reds’ Joey Votto singles against the Cubs on Sunday, July 2, 2017, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
caption arrowCaption
The Reds’ Joey Votto singles against the Cubs on Sunday, July 2, 2017, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

“So he’s really good. He’s done this for a long time. We’re all learning from him. He’s up on that top part of that upper echelon of people that have great pitch recognition with the combo of driving the ball a little bit. So physically he’s working hard on his swing and getting it a point where he’s starting to feel really comfortable. And he’s repeating really good swings now in a practice setting, and it’s coming — it’s transitioning to the game I think at the pace he wants it to be.”

Hitting is sure to be a focus early for the Reds this season, especially given the format for the 2020 season.

With only 60 games to get set for the postseason, the old Yogi Berra aphorism, “It’s getting late early” figures to be more true than ever this year.

In that regard, the way the 2019 season played out provides both reasons for optimism and pessimism.

Reds hitters stumbled out of the gate, hitting just .212 with a .286 on-base percentage and .667 OPS in March and April.

After a strong May (.259/.326/.771), they struggled again in June (.234/.315/.709), tore it up in July (.280/.336/.809) and fell off in August (.256/.322/..773).

September (.220/..305/.687) was almost as bad as the first few weeks of the season, though by then injuries and the trade of Yasiel Puig had left the lineup a shell of itself.

That picture should be a lot different on Opening Day thanks to the return to health of Senzel, Winker and Votto along with the addition of free agents Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama.

“The funny thing about hitting is that we never really get it,” Zinter said. “We hold onto it. It goes away, it comes back. We’re trying to get these guys to a point that they can put trust into a process that they can repeat and find a way to just maintain a steadfast attitude throughout the ups and downs of a season. So I don’t care who you are, there’s no way that you can be perfect for the whole season.

“Numbers are going to fluctuate so much, can we get past that for the greater good of the team? It’s easy for me to say that because I’m not in the box and it’s not my numbers, but I think this year is special. It’s different, so we’re gonna have to be able to get past a few bad games. We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves. We don’t have time to really wait around. So we’ve got to really get back in the box and get after it.”

About the Author