June 24, 2024

Shortly before the Cincinnati Reds’ journey to his birthplace in Seattle, outfielder Stuart Fairchild executed one of his most remarkable catches to prevent his college roommate Gavin Sheets from getting extra bases in a victory over the White Sox. Fairchild dove from right field into the gap, fully extending himself to catch the ball about a foot above the ground.

Stuart Fairchild, shown during the last homestand, is one of the reasons the Reds' outfield defense has not only survived without TJ Friedl, but excelled.

Was he showcasing his skills for his friends eagerly awaiting his return?

“Perhaps a little,” Fairchild quipped. “Just giving them a taste of what they’ll see when I’m back home.”

The homecoming series didn’t unfold as planned for Fairchild and the Reds, as they were swept by the Mariners. However, upon returning home to commence a seven-game homestand, including three games against the Los Angeles Angels over the weekend, an unexpected development has emerged for the Reds’ outfield early in the season.

Despite the loss of their top defensive outfielder and spark plug to injury, the Reds’ outfield performance has actually improved.

While it may seem like an overstatement, it’s not far from the truth. This improvement has been crucial in helping the Reds navigate through injuries and illnesses in the early stages of the season.

The absence of TJ Friedl, who suffered a non-displaced wrist fracture in mid-March, is expected to continue posing challenges for the Reds over the next few weeks. Despite hopes for an early return, Friedl’s clearance to ramp up activities has been delayed, pushing his potential comeback closer to the original mid-May estimate.

Collin Cowgill, the Reds’ outfield coach, acknowledged the significant void left by Friedl’s absence, both physically and emotionally. However, he praised the efforts of the team in stepping up to fill that gap, highlighting their commitment and readiness on every pitch. The center field rotation, consisting of Stuart Fairchild, Will Benson, and Bubba Thompson, has particularly stood out, showcasing solid and sometimes spectacular performances.

Additionally, corner outfielders Spencer Steer and Jake Fraley have contributed to the overall strong outfield play. Manager David Bell commended the collective and individual defensive improvements made by the team, emphasizing the impact of their hard work.

Fairchild’s remarkable play in Chicago was complemented by impressive sliding catches from Steer and Thompson, contributing to a shutout in Nick Lodolo’s debut. Despite downplaying his own contributions, Thompson expressed his determination to help fill the void left by Friedl’s absence.

Fairchild highlighted the team’s depth and readiness to step up in the face of adversity, acknowledging the loss of key players like Friedl while emphasizing the presence of capable replacements. The outfield has demonstrated its athleticism and defensive prowess, with memorable plays from Benson and Fraley further highlighting their defensive capabilities.

The significance lies in the depth and quality of athletes across the team, as highlighted by Fairchild. This depth becomes crucial for a team with aspirations of making the playoffs, especially while navigating the extended absences of Matt McLain due to injury and Noelvi Marte due to a steroid suspension. Thompson emphasized the consistency required in defense, noting that it doesn’t falter like other aspects of the game.

Fairchild, Benson, and Fraley have all demonstrated their defensive prowess, ranking among the top outfielders in making highlight-worthy catches. Cowgill praised the leadership and communication displayed by the outfielders, particularly highlighting Benson’s improvement, which has been notable since last year. Benson’s focus on smoothness and agility, along with daily drills, has transformed his performance in the outfield.

The Reds are not only missing TJ Friedl's offense and base running to begin this season, but also his stellar defense in center field. In his absence, the Reds' outfield play has shown improvement.

Despite missing their best outfielder, the Reds have maintained strong defensive statistics across different outfield positions. Cowgill emphasized the athleticism and versatility of Benson, Fairchild, and Thompson, collectively contributing to a formidable outfield rotation. With Friedl’s return on the horizon, Cowgill anticipates an even stronger outfield unit, envisioning a dynamic combination of defensive excellence and athleticism.

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