Reds outfielder Shogo Akiyama will be sidelined for “a few weeks” due to a left hamstring injury, manager David Bell told The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans (Twitter link) and other reporters. Akiyama suffered the injury on Saturday when trying to beat out a grounder at first base, and he was removed from the game prior to the Reds’ next turn in the field.
The timing means that Akiyama will begin the season on the 10-day injured list, and depending on the severity of the injury and the rehab/prep time Akiyama will have to put in at the alternate training site, it’s possible the Reds could be without the outfielder until around the middle of April.
After nine seasons as a standout with the Seibu Lions, Akiyama signed a three-year, $21MM deal with Cincinnati in January 2020. Given all of the unique difficulties of the 2020 season, it is rather hard to properly judge Akiyama’s first season in Major League Baseball, though he did show some positive signs. Akiyama’s overall .245/.357/.297 slash line in 183 plate appearances was marred by a very slow start, as he recovered to hit .333/.474/.383 over his final 76 PA of the regular season.
With a more normal offseason and some MLB experience now under his belt, there is reason to believe Akiyama can continue to be a productive player for the Reds, though the team wasn’t relying on him as an everyday option. Cincinnati’s first-choice starting outfield of Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, and Nicholas Castellanos means that Akiyama was slated to be a well-paid fourth outfielder, though he was likely to get a lot of action as a defensive sub and as a fill-in for Senzel in center field against some right-handed pitchers.
In Akiyama’s absence, Aristides Aquino and Scott Heineman now stand better chances of winning Opening Day roster spots as Cincinnati’s top backup outfielder. Minor league signing Dee Strange-Gordon can also fill in as a center fielder in a pinch, when he isn’t needed in the infield.