MIAMI – When Cincinnati Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman spoke to reporters Thursday, Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani was at the plate on a nearby TV screen.
It brought up the natural question whether Michael Lorenzen, now that he’s being used as a starting pitcher, could be used in a role like Ohtani.
Lorenzen will make his second start of the season Sunday against the Miami Marlins.
“If he’s a starter like Ohtani was, he would get a lot of pinch-hitting performances when you only have a four-man bench during the first five months of the season,” Riggleman said. “I could see him going on the double switch into the outfield type of thing a little bit. They are able to DH (Ohtani).”
Without the DH in the National League, it makes it harder to find a spot in the field for everyday at-bats.
“We really don’t even talk about it that much,” Riggleman said. “I think we all kind of know he could do it, but if you’re trying to put him in the outfield, we’ve got say (Jesse) Winker or (Scott) Schebler out there. They are pretty good. They can hit so are you really gaining anything there?”
Ohtani no longer pitches after the Angels recommended Tommy John surgery for his damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. He likely won’t pitch again until 2020.
Before the injury, the 24-year-old Ohtani proved that he could be a useful two-way player. As a designated hitter, he’s batting .292 this year with 20 homers and 55 RBI. He owns a .374 on-base percentage.
Ohtani recorded a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts, striking out 63 in 51 ⅔ innings. He wouldn’t hit on the day before a start or the day afterward. Plus, he would pitch on a six-day schedule, taking one more day of rest than the usual starting pitcher.
“I’m actually really happy for him because he’s opened the door for other people,” Lorenzen said of Ohtani. “I couldn’t be envious because without him doing what he’s doing and taking the type of discount that he took to come over to the USA and play Major League Baseball, that was a huge step for him. Because of that, it’s given a guy like me more opportunities. Only respect for him and everything that he’s doing.”
Lorenzen, who is hitting .296 with four homers and nine RBI in 27 at-bats this season, has always believed he could be a two-way player at the Major League level. The reason he wants to start is that he believes it will give him more opportunities to be used elsewhere on days he isn’t pitching.
Even as a reliever this year, Lorenzen pinch-hit in seven games that he didn’t pitch. He played one inning in right field and was a pinch-runner during the ninth inning of another game.
“I think we would just use him as needed if it ever came to using him anything more than a pitcher,” Riggleman said. “I think as the need arose, we’d feel confident he could go out there and, most importantly, not hurt himself. Maybe he could hit one out of the park here and now again.”
One of the biggest benefits if Lorenzen was a starter, Riggleman said, is that he could provide insurance for a short bench.
“Say it’s the 10th inning and you put your last position up to pinch-hit knowing that you still have (Lorenzen) available to go in. If somebody got hurt, he could go play in the outfield and be pretty natural at it,” Riggleman said. “You can do that with a lot of guys but you’re afraid they are going to get hurt, they crash into a wall or they dive for a ball. He’s so athletic that I think he could get away with some of that stuff.”
Lorenzen, the 38th pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, is confident that his pitching could translate to a full-time starter. The last time he was in the Reds’ rotation was his rookie season in 2015.
“I don’t think that door should be shut quite yet,” Lorenzen said. “I work extremely hard to get better and take care of my body to maintain a pitch count throughout a game and maintain my velocity throughout a season, no matter how many innings you have me throw.”