After Cincinnati Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos showed progress through three days of batting practice, he returned to the active roster for Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Castellanos suffered a micro-fracture in his right wrist when he was hit by a pitch on July 16. Three weeks later, he returned to the starting lineup and was hitting third in the order.
“I learned a lot about myself,” Castellanos said. “It’s the first time I’ve gone through something like this in my career. Things like this happen, and I’m just excited to be playing.”
Even though the Reds were missing their best hitter when Castellanos was on the injured list, Cincinnati still led MLB in batting average and OPS over the last two weeks. Since Castellanos officially went on the injured list, the Reds had a .296 batting average, which was 23 points higher than the next best team.
During that stretch, the Reds were also tied for the MLB lead in home runs, doubles and RBI.
“I’ve personally been part of teams that lost great players for a short period of time or even a long period of time, and guys end up getting better,” manager David Bell said. “You’re almost forced to get better as a team. But it only works if the character of your players and what you have as a team is such that it responds that way.”
First baseman Joey Votto and shortstop Kyle Farmer both helped carry the Reds offense during that stretch. Votto homered in seven consecutive games, and Farmer had a .429 batting average after Castellanos went on the IL.
But Castellanos still ranks sixth in MLB in OPS over the course of the season, and the Reds are adding a 2021 MVP candidate back into their lineup.
“He’s still going to have to deal with it, he has had an injury,” Bell said. “It was significant. I think by taking an extra day or two, it gives him his best chance to pick up where he left off. It hasn’t been too long of a break, so his timing is still there. He’s been working really hard.”
BIG ADJUSTMENT FROM SUÁREZ: On Saturday night, Cincinnati Reds third baseman Eugenio Suárez struck out on a 90 mph fastball at the top of the strike zone.
In 2017, 2018 and 2019, Suárez was one of the best home run hitters in baseball, especially against fastballs. This season, while he already has 21 homers and 58 RBI, Suárez entered Thursday’s game hitting .176, which is the second-lowest batting average among qualifying hitters in MLB.
After that strikeout on Saturday night, he began specifically looking to drive those high fastballs. In his next at-bat, Suárez hit a second-deck homer to left field off the same pitch.
“That was definitely one of my best swings on the high fastball," Suárez said. "I’ve been struggling on that high fastball, and I made my adjustment. I just got to be alert, don’t let the high fastball beat me. I don’t want to be late on that pitch. Just be on time with that fastball.”
As he searches to get in a rhythm at the plate for the first time this season, Suárez also made a significant mechanical adjustment. Previously, he hit with his front knee pointed toward the catcher.
Last week, Suárez stopped setting up his feet that way. Instead, he points his knee straight. With that new footwork, Suárez is able to execute a higher, longer leg kick and improve his timing as a hitter.
“I just got to be alert, don’t let the high fastball beat me,” Suárez said. “I don’t want to be late on that pitch. Just be on time with that fastball.”
Suárez still has better results against a fastball than any other pitch. He has hit 14 of his 21 home runs this season against fastballs. Suárez’s batting average against fastballs (.186) is over his average for the season (.176).
Despite his difficulty hitting off-speed pitches and breaking balls this season, Suárez still sees a fastball nearly twice as often as any other type of pitch, and he still has the opportunity to drive a fastball over the outfield fence.
“I’m just trying to make my best swing,” Suárez said. “I know I’ve got an opportunity to hit a homer everywhere, but I just try to put my best swing on it and not try to pull it or do anything specifically. Just don’t beat me and just hit it hard.”
Over the last two weeks, Reds manager David Bell has praised Suárez’s willingness to make adjustments. Suárez was one of the Reds best hitters in 2018 and 2019, and he’s currently tied for the team lead in home runs in 2021.
Suárez has tried several new things as he looks to turn around his season. He changed his leg kick, focused on keeping a more relaxed grip on the bat and even started using Reds infielder Mike Moustakas’ bat.
Suárez homered again on Tuesday, but he still has only a .222 batting average and seven strikeouts over his last seven games.
“He’s feeling more and more comfortable,” Bell said. “He seemed real free and easy. At this point where he’s at, the challenge and goal – and he knows this – (is to) stay with that. Just stay with the process and don’t chase the results and believe in what you’re doing because he’s on the right path."
INJURY UPDATES: Reds third baseman Mike Moustakas rehab assignment in Triple-A has ended, and he worked out on the field at Great American Ball Park on Thursday.
He could be back in the Reds lineup in a day or two.
“We want to make sure that (he transitions) back from playing a lot, that he continues to recover properly,” Bell said. “If everything goes well, like I said, it could be in the next day or two.”
Outfielder Nick Senzel will continue his rehab assignment, and reliever Tejay Antone could begin a rehab assignment this week. On Thursday, reliever Lucas Sims was scheduled to pitch on the second straight day in his rehab assignment, which is a significant step.
“If it goes well tonight and he recovers well the next couple of days, it’ll probably be a tough decision of whether to have him pitch one more time in Triple-A or be active later this weekend,” Bell said.