Nick Senzel, the former #2 overall draftee from back in 2016, watched as the Cincinnati Reds passed over him on the active roster for the likes of Henry Ramos, Stuart Fairchild, rookie Noelvi Marte, and Mike Siani since being optioned to AAA Louisville on August 11th. They held on to Kevin Newman and the 69 OPS+ he’s produced in all action dating back to the start of the 2020 season, and designated Henry Ramos for assignment while Senzel was back in AAA plying his trade.
With a second raise in arbitration due his way this winter, the writing appeared to be very much on the wall for the Reds and Senzel. You just don’t see a team move on from a guy like that midway through a first season in contention in forever just to see them dole out a multi-million dollar raise his way later in the offseason.
Senzel’s time with the Reds was, by most accounts, over.
Baseball is a devastatingly funny game, however, and on Thursday we got news that Joey Votto was heading back to the injured list due to discomfort in the same surgically repaired shoulder that ended his 2022 season (and set back the start of his 2023 one). With just 34 games remaining this year and Votto’s contract subject to only a team option decision this winter, yesterday was spent lamenting that we might well have seen the last of Votto’s time with the Reds. Somewhat lost in that brutal news, however, was that Senzel was being summoned to replace Joey on the roster.
Senzel did not start last night’s game against Merrill Kelly and the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he wasn’t out there to take part in the brilliance displayed by Brandon Williamson. But after Arizona finally seized the lead in the Bottom of the 7th - a lead that could have been larger had it not been for a catastrophic TOOTBLAN - Senzel came off the bench to face lefty reliever Kyle Nelson and promptly swatted a homer down the LF line that, for a time, looked like the swing that would rescue the Reds in a crucial game against their Wild Card competition.
There were rampant feel-good vibes. Might the most recent option to AAA be what finally lights the spark in Senzel? Could he possibly be the guy to step in to the Votto-sized void left on the roster, his own versatility allowing for cover while the future Hall of Famer, Jonathan India, and Jake Fraley remain sidelined? Was this team truly as young-dumb, as resilient as we’d seen from them through the season’s first 125+ games?
For a minute, that’s what ran through my head. Hell, for a minute I’d convinced myself that Matt McLain’s heroics in Los Angeles this weekend paired with the month-long skid from Arizona super-rookie Corbin Carroll had vaulted the Cincinnati infielder into the lead for National League Rookie of the Year honors - McLain, you’ll recall, was also once a 1st round pick of the Diamondbacks who spurned them, returned to school, and later was drafted again in the 1st round by the Reds (where he signed).
The baseball gods write glorious scripts, and they wrote a humdinger last night in Phoenix. In a blink, the Reds took the lead, took the field, issued a leadoff walk, and Carroll turned every last one of those good Reds vibes into better vibes of his own. A hanging breaking ball from lefty Alex Young rolled right into Carroll’s wheelhouse, and for the first time in 28 games the future star socked a homer - like Senzel’s, a blast that flipped the momentum late, only this one was insurmountable for what remained of the Reds offense.
Maybe it really was all just a flash in the pan. Maybe Senzel’s return will fade in much the same way that his Reds career has, and maybe Carroll just began a resurgence that will reclaim top honors among the amazing 2023 National League rookie class from McLain. Maybe the Reds, fighters that they are, are still destined to come up just short this season, the front office deeming that there will be better times in the future to step on the gas than when they held 1st place billing in the month of August this year.
For a few minutes last night, though, it felt as if the baseball gods had finally chosen Cincinnati on which to smile.