The debut of Shonei Ohtani with the Los Angeles Angels last season promised to portend a new era in the Major Leagues, a time where players were more than one-dimensional and could be utilized in much the same way they were in high school or college.
Apparently, the Cincinnati Reds took notice because they have now turned Michael Lorenzen into perhaps the game’s most interesting player.
How else would you define someone who did something on Wednesday that no player has done since Babe Ruth in 1921?
In their game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Lorenzen not only hit a home run, but he played center field and earned the win as a pitcher.
Lorenzen’s first homer of the season, a two-run blast, was hit off Phillies reliever Blake Parker in the eighth inning and wrapped up an 8-5 win at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
“It’s a fun stat,” said Lorenzen. “I’ll have to ask, see what kind of contract Babe Ruth would’ve gotten in today’s game and take that to the Reds. It’s cool to be a part of a Babe Ruth stat.”
The Reds have frequently used Lorenzen, a pitcher, in the outfield and because of that he has become one of the most indispensable players on their team. As of Thursday, he’d appeared in 19 games as an outfielder, eight in left, seven in center and four in right. But until Wednesday he had not joined the Babe by doing it all at once, and it was something he very much wanted to do.
“I really wanted to make sure I got one (a homer) this year,” said Lorenzen, who is 6-for-17 at the plate this season (.353 batting average). “I feel a little pressure has been taken off my shoulders.”
Until he cracked his homer, it looked as if Lorenzen might be responsible for a loss. He came into the game in the seventh inning with a one-run lead, but Philadelphia’s Jay Bruce turned around a 99-mph blazer. Lucky for him that José Iglesias homered as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh inning to put the Reds ahead again.
Lorenzen then took advantage of his good fortune by pitching a scoreless eighth inning. Reds manager David Bell then allowed him to hit with a runner on first base and two outs. Lorenzen smacked his seventh career homer into the left-field seats.
“I’ve even told him, I underestimated his ability,” said Bell. “It’s really incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it. To give him the opportunity there was fun. He has the confidence that he can step in and do it.”
Bell then brought in his closer, Raisel Iglesias, in the ninth inning and allowed Lorenzen to make history by shipping him out to center.
When Ruth set the record, he was the starting pitcher and homered twice.
“To me, it’s just a funny little stat, like a baseball stat,” said Lorenzen, the Reds first-round pick in 2013. “I’m not too into the statistics like that, but I know for a lot of people it means a lot. It’s cool. I’m definitely honored to be a part of that.”
Lorenzen has been an important part of the Reds bullpen. He’s appeared in 66 games and is second in the National League among relievers with 74 innings. He’s also stolen three bases and his considered an elite defender.
“I consider myself a high-level defensive placement,” Lorenzen told Forbes Magazine. “I wasn’t necessarily inspired by Ohtani but he gave me the opportunity for this year. He opened the door for me. I was more inspired by front offices saying it was impossible (to be a two-way player). The four-minute mile was impossible until it became possible. Sports is not a field where the word impossible should ever exist.”
What’s certain is that Lorenzen has proven his worth to his manager, whose father, Buddy, and grandfather, Gus, were also Major Leaguers.
“The athletic ability to do something like that is something that I have to get more comfortable with just because I haven’t seen it,” said Bell. “He’s done everything that he can do to get more opportunities like that.”
Last season, Lorenzen, who is poised to become a free agent, pitched to a 3.11 ERA and struck out 54 hitters in 81 innings. He started games, saved others and pitched in middle relief when needed.
He also raked at the plate, hitting .290 in 34 at-bats, leading NL pitchers with four homers, including a grand slam against Jacob Barnes of the Milwaukee Brewers.
In 101 career at-bats, he’s hitting .267 with seven homers, 22 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .302.