Lutz spends offseason making up for lost time from '13
German-developed outfielder plays in Mexico after string of injuries cut short last year
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A nearly two-month stint as the first German-developed Major League player made Reds outfielder Donald Lutz's exploits in baseball only slightly more noticed than they previously were in his home country.
"I try to get as much media attention over there as possible so people are aware that there is actually baseball," Lutz said.
During a month home for the holidays, the Friedberg, Germany, resident was invited to appear on a late night comedy talk show, TV Total. Among the clips shown was his first big league home run, a three-run shot hit on May 12 against the Brewers.
"They did a feature about baseball," said Lutz, who was born in Watertown, N.Y., but moved to Germany when he was a year old. "It was the first time something about baseball was streamed out nationwide to the most viewers."
Much of the rest of Lutz's winter was spent working toward improving at baseball itself. He played 35 games in Mexico during winter ball, partially to narrow his learning curve, but also to make up for lost time.
Shortly after being optioned by the Reds back to Double-A Pensacola last season, Lutz encountered some bad luck.
"It was bad. Right when I got sent down, in my first or second at-bat, I got hit in the elbow by a 96-mph pitch," Lutz said. "My elbow guard was still in Oakland. I left from the hotel and my equipment was still at the field. My guard didn't get to me until a couple of days later. I couldn't throw for two weeks."
A couple of weeks later, in mid-August, Lutz had to go on the disabled list because of a broken left index finger.
"They had a shift on and I tried to lay [a bunt] down. The lefty ran one high and in. I got out of the way, but it hit my finger and I broke my index finger," Lutz said.
Lutz missed a week, but returned and tried to play through the pain. He gripped his bat without using his index finger. Then he got hit on the wrist.
"That was basically it for the rest of the year," Lutz said. "I couldn't even make a push to come back in September [for a big league callup]."
Lutz, who turned 25 earlier this month, has impressed the Reds the past two springs in big league camp with his power and work ethic in learning to play the outfield. When the big league club was depleted of outfielders in late April, it reached down to Double-A to promote Lutz.
The left-handed-hitting Lutz did well in mostly a bench role by going 6-for-18 (.333) over his first nine games. Coming off of the bench took away the regular at-bats he was getting in the Minors.
"That's a really tough position for a young player to come up and be a bench player," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He got a handful of starts, but [he was] really a late-game, bench bat. That's a learned craft. It's a tough transition from being a regular player in the Minor Leagues to being a bench player in the big leagues."
Adding to the challenge were the holes in Lutz's swing that eventually became exposed by more experienced opposing pitchers, video and scouting.
"Even in the Minor Leagues, you have to make instant adjustments," Lutz said. "They test you a little bit and try to find your weakness and try to hammer that. You have to adjust really quick."
In 34 games for the Reds, Lutz batted .241 with one homer, eight RBIs and a .254 on-base percentage. At Pensacola, he batted .245 in 65 games with seven homers, 30 RBIs and a .318 on-base percentage.
Playing for Obregon during the offseason in Mexico, he batted .271 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 35 games. More importantly, he learned a lot.
"I think he did a really good thing by going down to Mexico and having to deal with a lot of the offspeed pitches, which were somewhat his nemesis last year," Price said. "He had to hit 2-0 changeups and breaking balls and understand that even though you get yourself in a good cripple count, you're not always going to get a fastball in the big leagues. He addressed a weakness. He had some holes and they exposed those holes last year. He's working to close those up. He's a good defender. He runs the bases well. He's a good instinctive player for a guy who started playing baseball at 15."
Lutz has also been working on being more selective to cut down his strikeouts -- he had 14 in 58 big league at-bats last season.
This spring, Lutz is probably on the outside looking in for a spot on the 25-man roster. With another solid showing in camp, he would put himself back on the short list for callup consideration if a need arises.
"I'm always competing," Lutz said. "We'll see where it goes from there. I'm sure they have a plan for everybody. All I can do is play."
Perhaps more people in Germany will take notice this year when he does.