Reds tell veteran Akiyama he won’t make opening day roster

Shogo Akiyama, of the Reds, singles to drive in a run in the sixth inning on Opening Day against the Tigers on Friday, July 24, 2020, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

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Shogo Akiyama, of the Reds, singles to drive in a run in the sixth inning on Opening Day against the Tigers on Friday, July 24, 2020, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The Cincinnati Reds informed Shogo Akiyama on Sunday that he would not make the opening day roster, leaving him to decide whether he’ll go down to Triple-A or become a free agent.

A productive player for nearly a decade in Japan, the outfielder wasn’t able to duplicate that success in two seasons with Cincinnati. He turns 34 later this month.

The left-handed hitter batted .224 overall with no home runs and 21 RBIs in 142 games for the Reds. He hit .204 last year and was slowed by hamstring injuries.

In Japan, he was a career .304 hitter in nine seasons and hit at least 20 homers in his last three years.

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Akiyama can accept assignment to Triple-A Louisville or try free agency once the paper transaction is completed by opening day. Akiyama will have seven days to decide.

“We are working with his agent,” Reds general manager Nick Krall said. “We felt we had better options with (Jake) Fraley and (Tyler) Naquin. ... Another left-handed bat was redundant. We would love to have him in our organization but he has to do what’s best for him and his family.”

The news didn’t shock Akiyama, who hasn’t yet said what he will do.

“It wasn’t like I was caught off-guard or it was unpredictable,” Akiyama said through an interpreter. “Results are everything. It could happen any time.”

Adversity followed his signing before the 2020 season delayed by COVID-19. He was hurt last year, and was batting just .182 (four singles in 22 at-bats) in spring training this year.

“The pandemic didn’t only happen to me. It was not in my control. Obviously, last year I was injured. I can’t complain about that at all,” Akiyama said.

Manager David Bell said he expects Akiyama to land somewhere should he choose free agency.

“It’s obviously a tough time when these things happen, but he knows he has a lot left in the tank. It wouldn’t surprise me at all that he gets the opportunity to help a major league team win,” Bell said.

“It was a tough road from the beginning. He didn’t get a ton of opportunity to play. We know he can play this game.”

Said Akiyama: “I know I can play. I know I can play hard. I know what my decisions are but I know that I have to talk to certain people to make that final decision. I don’t think it will take that long.”

The Reds reassigned catcher Andrew Knapp and right-hander Trey Wingenter to minor league camp. Knapp has an out in his contract that he could exercise on Monday and become a free agent. Otherwise, he will go to Louisville.

Wingenter has a sore elbow and will stay in Arizona on the injured list.

That move leaves Aramis Garcia as the backup catcher to Tyler Stephenson.

“We are still working through the rest of this roster but Knapp being sent down leaves Garcia as the only catcher in camp with Stephenson,” Krall said.

Garcia hit five home runs this spring and has improved his catching skills to win the job.

“He earned an opportunity to be on this team,” Bell said. “We knew Aramis coming into the camp. A lot of the coaches knew him coming into camp. He is very comfortable being here. He’s already developed a good relationship with all of our staff.”

“Garcia has always hit the ball hard. Offensively, he’s always had a ton of potential. His defense is better than his reputation and continues to improve. Tyler is going to play a lot but we have to keep him strong and healthy throughout the year. Any backup is going to be here to play. Catching is a demanding position. Tyler could DH. I wouldn’t be afraid to have both of them in the lineup.”

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