Faith pushes Reds’ Lorenzen past obstacles, on to the right track

Michael Lorenzen has evolved from a center fielder in college to a hurler in the big leagues.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI — As Michael Lorenzen puts it, "I didn’t come up with the best background." His father, Cliff, was an alcoholic and abandoned the family when Lorenzen was young. His mother, Cheryl, is a recovering alcoholic and drugs infested the family.

It was neither the Beaver Cleaver family, nor the Ozzie & Harriet clan. And Lorenzen was not on a path to righteousness.

"When I was 17, I was high on marijuana on a pier in Huntington Beach and some guy came up and started sharing about the Lord," Lorenzen said. "It was so convicting for me. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m high right now — this guy, this stranger, is talking to me about the Lord. Crazy. It changed my life. To this day I don’t know the guy."

From that day, the 23-year-old Cincinnati Reds pitcher wears his Christianity as prominently as he wears a baseball glove on his left hand.

He is a recent insertion into the Reds pitching rotation and on Tuesday night he held the hefty-hitting Colorado Rockies to one run and two hits over seven innings, holding them down until the Reds could score a run in the bottom of the ninth to win, 2-1, and break a nine-game losing streak.

Lorenzen is an avid scholar, studying the Bible and opposing hitters with equal passion.

"My brother, Bob, is a volunteer pastor at a church and I’ve been meeting with him once a week since my freshman year in college to study the disciples. This whole offseason we studied the Book of John and we only got to the 12th chapter because we got so deep into it. My brother keeps me accountable and he has been a father figure in my life."

Although his father left when he was in elementary school, Lorenzen credits him with supporting him in baseball, "And he showed me how to have fun in baseball. But without the Lord you can only do so much and he dealt with his alcoholism on his own. My mom was the same way, but she gave it up when I was in college."

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It was Lorenzen’s brother who pushed him and pushed him hard, "And he was an example for me and the boldest person I ever met in my life.

"The first time I met with him in high school, he said, ‘So you are a Christian now, huh?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, yeah yeah.’ And he said, ‘What is a Christian?’ "

Lorenzen said his answer was, "Someone who loves God?" And his brother said, "That’s all you know?"

Lorenzen told him, " ‘I want to play baseball now and share the gospel with people. And he said, ‘What is the gospel?’ And I said, ‘God loves you?’ And he said, ‘Oh, that’s the gospel, huh?’ "

Brother Bob was a pusher — not of drugs, but of knowledge about life and Lorenzen leads it heartily to this day. Combining baseball and his Christianity comes easy. And he takes neither lightly.

On the day after he pitched, Lorenzen was in the clubhouse at 8 a.m. studying film of the game he pitched.

"I got my running in at 8 and watched video for my next start," he said. His baseball god is preparation and he takes it as seriously as the Book of John. "I watch video to develop a plan for my next start. I watch video of teams that I am going to face. And I watch video of pitchers who are similar to me to see how they attack hitters."

Lorenzen was a center fielder at Cal State-Fullerton and was good enough as a hitter to have some teams considering him in the draft as an outfielder. And he uses that background on the pitching mound.

"Me being a hitter in college, I am able to pick up on weaknesses as I watch video," he said. "I can have a plan of attack, go to this spot because this is his weakness. I’m a guy who likes all my pitches — my sinker, my slider, my changeup, my four-seam fastball — I can execute all my pitches when my mentality is right.

"Every time a hitter comes up I am so familiar with him that I have in my mind exactly what I want to do," Lorenzen added. "I can tell you from every start I’ve made how I threw each guy and how I would throw him again. The whole lineup. That’s because I watch video two to three hours a day leading up to each start. I take copious notes."

Usually before a start, the coaches meet with the pitcher to help them plan their course of attack. The Reds have learned they don’t need to do that with Lorenzen. He tells them how he is going to pitch each hitter and they nod their heads and say, "That’s right, that’s right, that’s right."

After four starts, Lorenzen is 1-1 with a 3.12 earned run average that includes two relief appearances.

"The amazing thing is that this kid was a college outfielder and not profiled as a major league pitcher," manager Bryan Price said. "We’re watching the evolution of a prospect/starting pitcher growing into a certifiable big league starter."

Lorenzen, with the grace of God, is a long, long way from that day when he sat on the dock of the bay, almost smoking his life away.