CLEVELAND –– After Cincinnati Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz hit the second-hardest home run of the entire MLB season, Reds center fielder TJ Friedl thought back to what he saw from the 21-year-old rookie in batting practice earlier on Tuesday.
Entering the game against the Cleveland Guardians, De La Cruz was hitting .162 with a .464 OPS in September. He hadn’t homered since Aug. 23, he got benched for a big game last week against the Minnesota Twins, and he moved from the cleanup spot in the order to eighth.
During batting practice, Friedl noticed De La Cruz’s smile.
“He comes to the field with a smile on his face every day and works hard,” Friedl said. “Even in games where he may be 0-for-3 with three strikeouts or whatever, he’s still happy for every other guy. He doesn’t mope. He doesn’t pout. If he’s having a bad game, you’d never know. For days like today where his hard work pays off, it’s really cool to see as his teammate.”
In a must-win game for a Reds team that’s fighting for its life in the playoff race, De La Cruz had his first multi-home run game in the big leagues in an 11-7 win over the Cleveland Guardians. His second home run traveled 467 and was 119.2 mph off of his bat.
It was a snapshot of why De La Cruz was the top prospect in baseball earlier this summer. It was a reminder of the stretch in June where he carried the Reds offense.
De La Cruz hasn’t been the same player down the stretch, and he has responded by making adjustments to his swing.
“It’s been a rough patch, but that doesn’t mean you don’t go out there and have a positive attitude,” De La Cruz said via interpreter Jorge Merlos. “We’re working on adjustments just because of what has happened. We’re working on them every day.”
For the last three months, De La Cruz has been working on strategies to better identify the optimal pitches for him to swing at. The adjustments haven’t clicked yet.
His strikeout rate has spiked. He takes too many pitches that land right down the middle. De La Cruz moves a lot when he swings, and the Reds are working with him on ways to simplify his approach.De La Cruz’s struggles have carried over to his defense, where he has committed errors on too many routine plays. He’s a 21-year-old who only played in one full minor league season, and the Reds want to see him get stronger during the offseason to help him battle the 162 game grind.
De La Cruz still has plenty of time to live up to his potential. For now, the Reds just need him to keep hitting and help the team make a run at the playoffs.
“It’s never too late,” Bell said. “He has done a lot of great things this year. No matter what happens, he’s going to look back and it’s a successful year, there’s no question. When you can finish strong, especially with where we are as a team, just individually to finish strong, often you can take that into your next season.”When the season ends, the Reds see plenty to work on with the 21-year-old rookie. De La Cruz’s timing, swing mechanics and approach at the plate all need to improve. He’s the fastest man in baseball, but his speed has dropped a bit down the stretch. With a big league strength program, the Reds can put De La Cruz in position to feel less overall fatigue next September than he feels now.
De La Cruz has impressed the organization with his work ethic during the biggest slump of his life. Moments like De La Cruz’s game on Tuesday show what all of the work could be leading toward.
“You want to support guys, stay positive and know you have their back when the effort is there and when they continue to work,” Bell said. “Our staff has done a great job staying with him. At the same time, not trying to protect him from experiencing everything. That’s how you get better.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Reds' Elly De La Cruz hits second-hardest home run of MLB season