GOODYEAR, Arizona – Max Schrock had never played an inning on first base in all of his college and professional career. For an infielder on the sidelines of the Cincinnati Reds’ 26-man roster, the final two weeks of spring training were an opportunity to prove why he made the opening day roster.
Schrock started at first base against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday and has played three different infield positions this spring. If he forms the team, it will go off the bench as a utility infielder and left-handed.
“I’m open to play anywhere,” said Schrock. “I’m really happy to have the opportunity to play some positions. I’m a second baseman by profession, but I feel athletic enough to play some positions. I’m glad I got the opportunity. “
Schrock almost missed this opportunity after injuring his right calf in early spring. He did not play between March 10 and March 19, but his production was not affected when he returned from injury.
“I was just lucky that the calf thing wasn’t that serious,” said Schrock. “I got through my rehab pretty quickly and was just excited to get back on the field. I was obviously excited about the opportunity to play first base. I’ve just studied and asked a lot of questions. I still have a long way to go to get used to it, but it was great to get in there in a game. “
Before the calf injury, Schrock hit with only two rashes .429. Since his return, Schrock has had three hits to keep his batting average from changing. He also stole home in a double theft against the San Francisco Giants, showing the versatility he could bring to the roster.
“Last week he was fighting for a place on this team,” said manager David Bell. “He did everything he can. That injury was a bit scary but he came back very quickly and is moving great so that’s not a factor anymore. He’s still a young player who seems to be getting better and better as a batsman. “
While Schrock has the second highest batting average in the team, the Reds will likely only have room for two backup infielder on the squad. With Tyler Naquin and Mark Payton battling for places as bank outfielder and Dee Strange-Gordon vying for a spot, the Reds already have a large group of left-handers on the roster.
The Reds also have first base man Nicky Delmonico, a left-handed 6 RBI this spring who could potentially be a draw partner on first base with Kyle Farmer until Joey Votto returns to full strength.
With infielders Alex Blandino and Kyle Holder and outfielder Aristides Aquino, Bell said he will make a tough decision this week to determine the bank.
“It’s not all as simple as the spring training that a player has. You see the entire team, you see the entire squad, you see a bench that is as complete and rounded as possible,” said Bell. “It’s not just guys playing off the bench, you want to feel great about their ability to start games, so we have a lot of good options.”
The plan for the pitching staff
With the Reds having four days off in the first four weeks of the regular season, Bell could run a four-man rotation until April 25. Even if Sonny Gray could miss the start of the regular season with back spasms, Bell said The Reds weren’t seriously considering that plan.
With Cincinnati planning to start the season with a five-man switch, the Reds got some good news as Michael Lorenzen (light shoulder strain) and Tejay Antone (irritation of his hip flexor) avoided long-term injuries.
“Everything is pointing in the right direction, that they could be back in a few days, and more importantly, there’s a big chance they’ll be done next week, which is the most important thing,” said Bell. “The good news is that her arms are in great shape.”
How Hembree helps
The Reds fitted in late into the spring training program by signing a minor league contract with veteran helper Heath Hembree with an invitation to big league camp.
While Hembree had a 9.00 ERA with the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies in 2020, he’s been a major league reliever since 2013 and had a 3.86 ERA over 39.2 innings with Boston.
“Obviously (he) is a pitcher that has been added and has had a lot of success and good experiences,” said Bell. We saw him a bit, it’s great to be able to bring him in at this point in the camp and really make him a strong candidate. I think he kind of fits into a group of people. We have great options. “