Winners of four in a row and seven out of their last 10 games, the Cincinnati Reds, yes those Cincinnati Reds, are in first place in the National League Central with a record of 48-39.
One of the worst teams (62-100) in the majors last season (during which they managed to throw a no-hitter and lose), the Reds have turned things around in 2023. There’s no greater symbol of that role reversal than the play of star rookie Elly De La Cruz.
Called up last month, the 21-year-old shortstop has been nothing short of a revelation for Cincinnati. A native of the Dominican Republic, he’s hitting .318 with 35 hits, and has logged 14 RBI and 25 runs scored in 26 games in MLB. He also hit for the cycle a couple weeks back. Per Jayson Stark of The Athletic, the home run De La Cruz hit that day was, at nearly 117 mph, the hardest hit ball of any home run hit in a cycle during the Statcast Era, which began in 2015. If that wasn’t impressive enough, during his triple he ran faster from home plate to third base than any other Major Leaguer who’d also hit for the cycle in the Statcast Era.
De La Cruz has totaled four home runs in his young career, one of which came last night after Nationals manager Davey Martinez called on umpires to check the rookie’s bat and examine a knob on the bottom of it to see if it was legal.
Removed after Martinez questioned its use before De La Cruz batted in the second, the knob was back on the rookie’s bat when he stepped to the plate in the third after the league office informed the umpires it was legal. The rookie initially flew out to left with the knob back on his bat, but De La Cruz didn’t wait long before bashing a home run 455 feet out of the ballpark in the fifth inning and then letting everyone, including Martinez, know about it:
Martinez, who has guided the Nationals to a last-place record of 34-52 thus far, did not appreciate De La Cruz’s gesture. “I am not trying to penalize this kid. I’m not. I love the way he plays the game,” Martinez said. “I didn’t like his antics after he hit the home run. We can do without that. He’s only got two weeks in the big leagues, but he’s going to be a good player.”
He is — and it was nothing to do with the plastic knob on the bottom of his bat.
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“Just to tell everybody that the knob is not the reason why I am doing a good job,” De La Cruz, who had a pair of doubles after his massive home run, said of the meaning behind his gesture following the home run. “It’s because of all the work I’m putting out there.”
With the Reds, who haven’t won a playoff series since 1995 in first place, all that work is paying off.