Cincinnati Reds shortstop Matt McLain’s grand slam in Friday’s 9-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks was more than just the biggest swing of the game. It was a three-pitch sequence that summed up what makes McLain a cornerstone of the Reds’ future.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Diamondbacks reliever Justin Martinez blew two 100 mph fastballs by McLain. The third pitch was 100.9 mph, and McLain crushed it over the right-field fence for an opposite-field homer.
McLain got his ninth big league homer since he got called up in May. His grand slam against the Diamondbacks showed the most about him.
“I can’t stress enough how important that is to be successful at this level,” Reds manager David Bell said. “(Against) a really special fastball like that when you’re behind in the count and have the kind of power to be able to drive the ball to the opposite field, it says a lot. It really sets Matt up to be able to have a lot of success.”
McLain said he only needed to make a simple adjustment. He was late on Martinez’s first two fastballs, so McLain just swung earlier on the third pitch.
That's much easier said than done. According to Bally Sports Ohio statistician Joel Luckhaupt, McLain’s homer was the fastest pitch that a Red has ever homered off of in the pitch tracking era (since 2008).
But the Reds have a big group of rookies who make difficult tasks look easy.
"It’s very exciting,” McLain said. "The amount of work we put in and how we do our business is how we pride ourselves on. As long as we continue to do that, it will be a lot of fun.”
Against the Diamondbacks on Friday, rookie Spencer Steer broke out of a slump in a three-RBI game. On Thursday in a win over the San Francisco Giants, Andrew Abbott threw eight shutout innings. Christian Encarnacion-Strand has shown plenty of power during his first week in the big leagues. Elly De La Cruz is already one of the most dynamic players in MLB.
The Reds’ series against the Arizona Diamondbacks is a showcase for some of the best rookies in MLB, including Rookie of the Year favorite Corbin Carroll. Rookies have helped lead both teams back into the playoff race, and the Reds’ group has them 1.5 games back of first place in the NL Central following Friday’s win.
“It makes me wish I was younger,” Reds starting pitcher Ben Lively said. “They’re so energetic and so alive, ready to go every day. It’s so cool. It’s hard to explain in words, but watching them get after it, even during their drills and (batting practice) and stuff, they’re full-on, going at it. It’s cool to watch.”
Friday was McLain’s turn in the spotlight. Since he got called up in May, he’s hitting .301 with a .886 OPS while providing standout defense and elite baserunning. He scored a run in the fourth inning on Friday where he raced from first to home on a double to left field. McLain has played more shortstop in MLB than the coaching staff initially planned because of how much of an impact he has made at that position.
Among players who have started at least half of their games at shortstop this season and played in at least 50 games this season, McLain has the second-best OPS. He’s already playing at the level of one of the best shortstops in baseball.
“He knows what he’s good at, and he sticks to it,” Reds second baseman Jonathan India said. “That’s hard to do in this game. Sometimes, you want to do too much in this game. He knows what type of player he is, and he rides with it.”
The closest statistical comparison to McLain’s 2023 season is Carroll, the Diamondbacks’ left fielder who has a .281 batting average and a .894 OPS. The biggest difference in their seasons is that Carroll started the year in MLB and has played in 36 more big league games than McLain has played in this season.
McLain’s rookie season reached another gear when he began showing power more consistently. After his first few weeks in the big leagues, McLain started squaring up line drives and home runs more often. His opposite-field home run on Friday was another example of his potential.
“With two strikes, you’re protecting a bit more,” Bell said. “You have to see the ball a little bit deeper. You honor the fastball but there are other ways they can get you out. (For McLain) to be able to stay ready and be quick enough and be in a good position to hit like that, I don’t know that I’ve seen too many home runs hit like that on that type of fastball.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Matt McLain highlights the power of Cincinnati Reds' rookie class