PITTSBURGH –– When Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jesse Winker stepped to the plate for his first at-bat on Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Pirates only had one defender on the left side of the infield.
The Pirates infield had an aggressive shift on Winker, a left-handed hitter. Winker poked a soft ground ball down the left field line for his 38th hit of the season.
This one, he said, took a little luck.
“I hit that ball off the very end of my bat, just an unbelievable two-seam fastball and it completely missed my barrel and squeaked down the line,” Winker said. “I was not trying to do that on that ball. You take what the game gives you, and I’ll take that one.”
In his other two-at bats on Tuesday night, Winker left no doubt with a 438-foot home run in the third inning and another double on a line drive to left field in the eighth. After his three-hit game on Tuesday, Winker took over the MLB lead with a .374 batting average.
“I really don’t pay much attention to statistics,” Winker said. “The only thing that matters is helping the team win and winning games and getting the team back to the postseason and getting in the playoffs.”
When the Reds lost first baseman Joey Votto to the injured list, manager David Bell moved Winker from first in the lineup to second. The purpose was to get more runners on base for Winker.
While Chicago White Sox outfielder Yermín Mercedes regained his spot as the MLB leader in batting average later Tuesday night, Winker still ranks second in MLB in batting average and OPS, third in on-base percentage and first in slugging.
“(I’m) continuing to do the work every day on both sides of the ball,” Winker said. “I feel like I’ve gotten better defensively and I just want to continue getting better in all aspects of the game. Baserunning too. I just want to keep getting better and keep learning.”
Senzel settling at top of order
When Winker moved to second in the lineup, Senzel took over at the top spot in the order. In his 27 at-bats hitting lead-off this season, Senzel has a .444 batting average and just three strikeouts.
Overall, Senzel has a .256 batting average and a .340 on-base percentage, which ranks fifth on the team.
“Honestly, he’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever played with,” Winker said. “He’s an unbelievable talent, and he has been playing really well. It’s been a ton of fun hitting behind him and watching him kickstart it.”
On Tuesday, Senzel went 3-for-4 with three singles. He did make a mistake in the first inning when Senzel was caught stealing second base.
Senzel has been caught stealing five times this season, which leads MLB. But Senzel gained an extra base later in the game. Off Winker’s double in the eighth inning, Senzel scored from first base.
“(Senzel) is a guy that can run,” Bell said. “He’s a guy that has stolen bases in his career… It didn’t work out (Tuesday), but we always look to be opportunistic with stealing bases.”
Starting rotation change
As the Reds are amid a stretch of 14 consecutive days with games, Bell tweaked the starting rotation to give Wade Miley an extra off-day coming off his no-hitter.
I’m ready to go,” Miley said. “I didn’t throw a bullpen this week but had some extended catch days and stretched out a little bit. I feel fine.”
The Reds pushed Miley’s next start back to Friday against the Colorado Rockies, and Luis Castillo will start Thursday in the series opener.
The Reds rotation remains Castillo, Miley, Tyler Mahle, Jeff Hoffman and Sonny Gray.
“It keeps it steady with the work that I do,” Castillo said through team interpreter Jorge Merlos. “It just means that I get to do my job out there, and keep steady with what I’m doing.”