Cincinnati Reds: Five storylines to follow during 2022 season

Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto throws out San Francisco Giants’ Patrick Bailey during the third inning of a spring training baseball game, Saturday, March 26, 2022, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

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Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto throws out San Francisco Giants’ Patrick Bailey during the third inning of a spring training baseball game, Saturday, March 26, 2022, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Reds are in rebuilding mode but do have a few exciting players to watch

Near the end of last season, Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell talked about the encouraging progress his team showed in 2021. A late-season fade stopped his team from reaching the postseason for the second straight year, but he said he loved the group of players. They inspired him.

“It wasn’t a success because we came up short of the championship,” Bell said then, “but I can’t wait ‘til 2022 and hope that we have most, if not all, of the same guys on this team.”

Well, so much for that.

The Reds who start the 2022 season at 8:08 p.m. Thursday on the road against the Atlanta Braves are not “the same guys” who finished 83-79 last season. Gone are four starters (Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez and Tucker Barnhart) who combined to tally 298 RBIs, or just under 40% of the team’s total. The Reds also lost two starting pitchers (Wade Miley and Sonny Gray) who combined for 19 victories.

All that adds up to what has to be the least-anticipated season in recent memory, and that’s saying a lot for a franchise that suffered six straight losing seasons from 2014-19. Nevertheless, there will be a season, and here are five storylines Reds fans can follow.

1. The debut of Hunter Greene: The Reds’ top draft pick in 2017 — the No. 2 overall selection — will make his first big-league appearance April 10, starting the last of the four games in Atlanta.

“I’m still at a loss for words. I knew yesterday, but I had to keep it on the down low. I told my family,” Greene said. “A lot of work went into this. There were so many obstacles, so many ups and downs, but it is not going to be the last time I face adversity. I’ve learned a lot of life lessons. I had to grow up pretty quick for some things.”

2. The encore seasons of Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson: India became the eighth player in Reds history to win the Rookie of the Year Award last season. The second baseman led NL rookies with 69 RBIs, ranked second in home runs and hit .269 with a .376 on-base percentage.

Stephenson had almost as big an impact in his first full season in the big leagues, hitting .286 with 10 home runs and 45 RBIs. He played well enough to make the Reds comfortable trading veteran catcher Tucker Barnhart to the Detroit Tigers.

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3. The return of Nick Senzel: Limited to 36 games last season because of a knee injury, Senzel is expected to be the everyday centerfielder for the Reds. He hit .256 with 12 home runs in 42 RBIs in 2019 after making his big-league debut in May. He played in only 23 games in the 60-game 2020 season because of COVID-19 issues. Through Thursday, he was hitting .238 with four RBIs in eight spring training games.

4. A full season of fans: No fans saw the Reds play at Great American Ball Park in 2020 because of pandemic attendance restrictions. The 2021 season started with limited attendance, but restrictions were lifted in June. The Reds ranked 17th in baseball (18,580) in attendance in 2021 after ranking 19th (22,329) in 2019.

There will no restrictions in 2022. The Reds play the Cleveland Guardians in their home opener at 4:10 p.m. April 12. The Reds also play the Guardians at 12:35 p.m. April 13. Those are the only two home games in the first 14 days of the season.

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5. The pursuit of milestones: First baseman Joey Votto enters his 16th season with the Reds near the top of the Reds record book in many statistical categories.

If he plays as many games as he did last season (129), Votto will move into sixth place in career games played, passing Tony Perez (1,948). Votto has 1,900 appearances with the Reds.

Votto has 2,027 hits and should pass Johnny Bench (2,048) to move into fifth place. Votto has 435 doubles and needs seven to pass Barry Larkin and move into second place behind Pete Rose (601). With 1,065 RBIs, Votto needs seven to pass Bid McPhee and move into second place behind Bench (1,376).

Votto has found a way to be entertaining in even the most depressing of seasons, and now he has a social media account to amplify his impact. He joined Instagram this spring.

“I just felt like I didn’t have access to things that most of my friends, family members, teammates had access to,” Votto said on MLB Tonight.

In the same interview, Votto was asked if it was important to him to play his entire career with the Reds — a good question considering the franchise is entering a rebuilding phase with Votto, 38, nearing the end of the 10-year contract extension he signed in 2014.

“I made a commitment 10 years ago to stay with the Reds,” Votto said, “and you can’t expect every year to be the very best. You hope for it. You strive for it. You compete for it. But if you stick with one team over the course of 13 years, the likelihood of them (all) being championship years, that’s just unrealistic. When I made the commitment years ago, it was to stay with the Reds long term, to wear the uniform through my entire career and retire as a Red.”

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