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Four storylines to pay attention to heading into 2018 season

David Wysong

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The day is almost here, Opening Day.

The Cincinnati Reds — who are coming off a 94-loss season — will begin their 2018 campaign Thursday when they take on the Washington Nationals. With fans hopeful for improvement, here are four storylines to pay attention to heading into the new year.

1.     Nick Senzel’s MLB debut

Hitting .286 in 28 at-bats, top prospect Nick Senzel found success in big league camp, but the Reds sent him down to minor league camp March 19. Many expect Senzel to make his much-anticipated MLB debut this season, though, but the question is when?

If Senzel spends roughly three weeks in the minors the Reds will control him contractually for an additional year, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. So, fans must wait at least a few weeks.

Another question surrounding Senzel is what position he will play once in the majors. Senzel is a third baseman, but Eugenio Suarez is a lock at that position as he has hit 47 home runs over the past two seasons. Senzel took reps at third base and shortstop during camp, so he could be the one to replace All-Star Zack Cozart.

No matter when or where Senzel plays for Cincinnati, fans have a lot to be excited about.

2.     The health of the pitching staff

Last season, the Reds’ pitchers struggled to stay healthy. Brandon Finnegan only started four games with a shoulder injury and right-hander Anthony DeSclafani missed the whole season with a sprained elbow. Homer Bailey started 18 games for the team, but has only started 26 games the past three seasons.

So far, this season is looking much of the same. Finnegan exited a game early March 11 after experiencing a lateral spasm in his forearm, DeSclafani is starting the season on the DL with a strained left oblique, and Michael Lorenzen suffered a Grade 1 strain of his teres muscle.

All these guys should hopefully return in a reasonable amount of time — Finnegan even took the mound on Saturday —  but the injuries are something to worry about considering the recent history.

3.     Billy Hamilton’s struggles at the plate

Billy Hamilton is fun to watch. His speed makes him an elite defender and impossible to pick off when he is running the bases. It is easy to contain him on the bases, though, when he doesn’t even get there.

Hamilton has a career on-base percentage of .298, and his batting average dipped down to .247 last season after hitting .260 in 2016. He isn’t showing any improvement this spring either as he is batting .186 in 17 games.

For the Reds to have success this year, they must see more production at the plate from the speedy star.

4.     Is this Bryan Price’s last chance?

Since becoming the Reds’ manager in 2014, Bryan Price has a record of 276-372. The team was 18 games above .500 the year before Price became the manager, then were 10 games under.500 in his first year.

The Reds exercised Price’s option for 2018 on his one-year contract, meaning there is no guarantee for his future in Cincinnati.

If the Reds don’t take a step towards improving this year, the ball club could turn to a legend to lead their club. Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin has expressed interest in managing his former team.

“If I manage in the big leagues then I would only want to manage for the Cincinnati Reds,” Larkin said in February. “I’m getting pressure from our young players that are now starting to make it to the big leagues and they keep telling me ‘When it’s time for us to go to war we want you to lead us.’”

The future of the Reds’ manager position is unclear, but Price’s club must show improvement if he wants to continue to stay in Cincy.

David is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Cincinnati. He has covered UC sports for the student newpaper, The News Record, during all four years. He is currently the editor-in-chief of The News Record. After graduation, David hopes to stay in Cincinnati and cover sports in the city as a career.

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