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Michael Lorenzen: A League of His Own

Michael Lorenzen did it again. For the fourth time in 2018, Lorenzen crushed a ball that ended up in the outfield seats. It is rare for a pitcher to hit a home run, it is almost unheard of that a relief pitcher hits a home run, let alone four.

The reason it is so uncommon is that relief pitchers hardly get the chance to swing the stick. Lorenzen is a different breed when it comes to relievers. In his 23 at-bats, he has collected six hits, with two-thirds of those leaving the park. He also has nine RBIs to add to his stat sheet. He’s truly unique player, with an unusual path to the majors.

The Fullerton Phenom

Lorenzen attended Cal State Fullerton where he played three years of college ball. A star outfielder for the Titans, Lorenzen excelled at the plate slashing .324/.394/.478 with an OPS of .872. He hit just two home runs in each of his first two seasons before finding his power in his junior year. In his final year at Fullerton, he sent seven balls to the bleachers.

Lorenzen was not thought of as a pitcher when he signed his letter of intent with Cal State Fullerton. He had only made 10 appearances on the mound in his four years of Varsity baseball for Fullerton High School. He allowed eight earned runs in 15 1/3 innings for the Indians. That’s not terrible, but not something that would make one think he would pitch at the collegiate level.

(Photo Courtesy: Cal State Fullerton Athletics)

In his first year at CSUF, Lorenzen did not take the hill, but boasted an absurd .920 OPS, which would turn out to be his second best in his three years. The worst slash line of his three years came in his sophomore year, where he still hit an impressive .297/.353/.435 in 57 games. This also was the year he became the Titans closer. He started games in the outfield, then dominating hitters in the ninth inning.

Lorenzen collected multiple awards and honors during his years at CSUF. He was the Big West Freshman of the Year solely as a hitter. He was named a First-team All-American by a collegiate baseball during his sophomore campaign, and First-team All-American by Rawling in his final season at Fullerton.

Pick No. 38

In 2013, the Reds were interested in the star slugger, but not for his ability at the plate. With the 38th pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, the Reds took Lorenzen, with plans to convert him to a pitcher full time.

In his first full season in Cincinnati, Lorenzen started 21 of the 27 games he appeared in. After one season as a starter, the Reds plans for Lorenzen changed. Lorenzen was converted to a reliever full time, essentially taking the possibility of him contributing on both sides of the field. Although he was limited to just five at-bats in 2016, Lorenzen delivered possibly the most memorable moment of the season.

The Special Shot That Started It All

In his first appearance following the death of his father, Lorenzen stepped up to the plate. For the first time in his major league career, he sent a ball into the seats against the Los Angeles Dodgers. There was not a dry eye in the park as Lorenzen crossed home plate pointing to the heavens, letting his father know his first career home run was for him.

(Photo Courtesy: Youtube)

Lorenzen’s at-bats increased to 12 in 2017, but was still not viewed as an offensive weapon, collecting just two hits in those at-bats, however, one of his hits was a home run. He did pitch in twice as many games in 2017 with 70 appearances. His earned run average shot up to 4.45, but he remained one of the bright spots in a historically bad bullpen.

Fast forward to 2018, Lorenzen has been a force both on the mound and at the plate. The Reds finally realized that the high school and college slugger still can rake at the plate. Lorenzen has been utilized as a pinch hitter this season, something that is almost never seen from a relief pitcher at the major league level.

The Two-way Star

To pair with Lorenzen’s great bat, he is phenomenal at what the Reds drafted him to do, get outs on the mound. After tossing 2 1/3 innings of perfect baseball, including three strikeouts, against the Brewers on Thursday, he has now lowered his ERA to 3.12.

The value that Lorenzen brings to the Reds is deeper than the surface stats. With almost every reliever in the majors, they can only pitch until their spot in the lineup is up. That is not the case with Lorenzen. When it is Lorenzen’s turn to hit, the bench players can forget about grabbing a bat. Having a reliever that is able to hold his own and more at the plate then go back out on the mound and strike out opposing hitters is a quality that cannot be matched by any other reliever in the game. This was the case on Thursday that allowed Lorenzen to pitch over two innings.

Pitchers Who Rake

The only reliever to come close to the power and skill at the plate comes in the form of former Red Travis Wood. Wood was such an efficient hitter, when he played for the Chicago Cubs he made appearances in left field. With Wood not playing in the majors in 2018, the honor of best hitting reliever, or hitting pitcher in general, belongs to Lorenzen.

Due to his offensive outburst, people have called for Lorenzen to get a shot at playing the field. This would not be the worst idea and could be an interesting experiment during spring training, but they also have a piece that most teams do not have. A solid reliever that can hold his own when it comes to the plate is a luxury only the Reds are enjoying at the moment.

(Photo Courtesy: MLB.com)

The Reds have a special player in Lorenzen and the Cincinnati fans should enjoy watching the best hitting pitcher in baseball (Angels’ rookie phenom Shohei Ohtani excluded because he is also a designated hitter). The only other pitcher in the league that could match Lorenzen’s talent at the plate is Giants’ ace, Madison Bumgarner. A Lorenzen/Bumgarner home run derby will need to be held to determine the champion of pitchers who rake. This home run derby more than likely will never happen, so Lorenzen and his four home runs in just 23 at-bats will be the unofficial scoring that crowns him as the champ.

Lorenzen is Here to Stay

Lorenzen is not a free agent until the 2022 season. Barring a trade, Cincinnati will have the pleasure of watching the 26-year-old star reliever and pinch hitter for years to come. A player with the skill and character of Lorenzen is not seen often. One of the better relievers on the field and an even better person off the field. Enjoy Lorenzen while he dons a Reds uniform, players like him do not come around often and Cincinnati is lucky to have him.

 

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