Cincinnati Reds: Where in the world is Shogo Akiyama?

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 27: Shogo Akiyama #4 of the Cincinnati Reds (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 27: Shogo Akiyama #4 of the Cincinnati Reds (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Many Reds fans are wondering why Shogo Akiyama hasn’t seen more time.

I’m not really sure why you pay a player $21M to ride the pine. Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell has been very careful, to say the least, with outfielder Shogo Akiyama in the early stages of the 2020 season. It’s time to see what the former Nippon Professional Baseball star can do as an everyday player.

The Reds made several big splashes in free agency this past offseason. Mike Moustakas, who’s currently on the injured list signed a four-year/$64M contract, as did outfielder Nick Castellanos. However, one of the most talked-about signings this winter was that of Shogo Akiyama, the first Japanese player to ever put on a Reds uniform.

Cincinnati signed Akiyama to a three-year/$21M contract. The 32-year-old had primarily played center field in Japan, but with Nick Senzel as the Reds primary centerfielder, Bell moved Akiyama to left field, which also moved Jesse Winker into the role of the created universal designated hitter.

It seemed like the perfect scenario. Most nights, Akiyama would play left, Senzel would play center and Castellanos would be in right field while Winker slotted in as the team’s DH. However, in the first four games of 2020, we’ve yet to see those four in the starting lineup. With Senzel out of action for the foreseeable future, who knows when we will see it.

But let’s get back to Shogo Akiyama. I can understand David Bell’s hesitation on Opening Day. With left-hander Matthew Boyd on the mound for the Detroit Tigers, it’s understandable that the Reds skipper would turn to Phillip Ervin, who absolutely destroyed left-handers in 2019. Akiyama would eventually pinch hit in that game and record an RBI single.

The following night, Akiyama was in the starting lineup, but not at the top of the order. It was a bit odd seeing Jesse Winker hitting in the leadoff spot, despite his high on-base percentage as it would seem that Akiyama’s skillset is better served with him hitting No. 1 in the batting order rather than No. 6.

Akiyama was in the No. 6 hole again on Sunday afternoon, going 1-for-2 and was lifted for Ervin in the sixth inning. Last night saw Akiyama out of the starting lineup again and didn’t make an appearance until a pinch hit walk in the bottom of the ninth inning.

I’ve openly supported David Bell since he was named the Cincinnati Reds manager last season. I think he has a solid approach to the position and his analytical mindset matches what the front office is looking for. But this is getting to be too silly. Why sign Akiyama to that huge deal if you’re going to use him as a platoon player?

To his credit, Bell said that the left-handed hitting Akiyama will not be used as platoon player and that the coaching staff is very aware of his ability to hit left-handed pitching. Bell went on to say, via C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic, that there are other players on the team who hit well off left-handers and he wants to play to their strength.

Look, I like Phillip Ervin as much as the next guy, but you got to stop playing the matchups sometimes and go with your best players. You’ll never convince me that Christian Colón is a better option than Shogo Akiyama to be the Reds DH. The last time Colón faced Cubs lefty Jon Lester was back in 2014. Sure, he got a hit during that one at-bat, but it’s not like he’s 8-for-14 against him.

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With Nick Senzel out, Shogo Akiyama should be the Cincinnati Reds starting centerfielder and hitting leadoff. When Senzel returns, Akiyama can slide over to left field, but still bat in the No. 1 spot. Akiyama was brought in to be a difference maker, and it’s time for Bell to treat him like one.