April 4, 2013
The Reds are on Plan B.
Plan A was tossed into the Ohio River when left fielder Ryan Ludwick suffered a dislocated right shoulder sliding head first into third base on Opening Day.
The MRI on Monday revealed there was torn cartilage. Surgery was performed to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder Wednesday morning.
Reds manager Dusty Baker said he expects Ludwick to be out “13-to-14 weeks,” which would take him to at least the All-Star Game in July.
That would include a minor league rehab stint, but at least it’s not Ludwick’s throwing shoulder, as he throws left.
So what happens now?
It will be impossible to fill Ludwick’s power from the current roster. Last year Ludwick hit .275 with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs. After the All-Star break he hit .309 with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs.
The first one who will be pointed toward left field will be Chris Heisey, who has had a roller-coaster career in what is now his fourth year with the Reds. A .259 career hitter, he hit .254 with 18 home runs and 50 RBIs in 2011.
Last year he was beat out for the left-field job by Ludwick and ended up hitting .265 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs. He’s always been an above-average outfielder with a plus arm.
If Heisey was one thing last year, it was consistent. He hit .274 against left-handers and .262 against righties. He hit .268 before the break and .261 after it. Heisey hit .270 with runners in scoring position.
At this point in his career, Heisey appears better suited for a team’s No. 4 outfielder. However, he’s been a backup most of his career. This will give him a shot to prove he’s a full-time outfielder.
“It’s Heisey’s turn,” Baker said.
Left-handed hitting Xavier Paul will see some time, as well. Paul hit .314 in 86 at-bats last year after he was signed by the Reds in mid-July.
To take Ludwick’s spot on the roster, the Reds called up switch-hitting Derrick Robinson, a former fourth-round pick of the Royals in 2006. The Reds signed up to a minor league deal this past December.
Last year at AAA Omaha, Robinson hit .268 with 12 doubles and two home runs. He had 23 stolen bases. He doesn’t have any power, but has plenty of speed. From 2008 to 2011 in the minors, he had stolen-base seasons of 62, 69, 50 and 55.
The 25-year-old Robinson turned down a scholarship to play cornerback at Florida to sign with the Royals. In spring training this year, Robinson hit .300 with two stolen bases.
If the Reds want to go the power route, they’ll send Robinson out in favor of minor league 24-year-old outfielder Donald Lutz. Baseball America rated Lutz the best power hitter in the organization.
In 2011 at Class A Dayton, Lutz hit .301 with 20 home runs and 75 RBIs. Between A Bakersfield and AA Pensacola last year, he hit .256 with 22 home runs and 66 RBIs.
In spring training, Lutz batted .277 with two home runs and 12 RBIs.
Some fans are calling for speedy Billy Hamilton, who set a professional baseball record last year with 155 stolen bases between A Bakersfield and AA Pensacola. But the Reds want Hamilton to spend the year at AAA Louisville as he makes the conversion from shortstop to center field. They also want him to work on his hitting.
Hamilton’s average dipped from .323 at A to .286 at AA last year. He struggled in spring training, batting .192.
So Hamilton isn’t ready.
Another possibility down the road is 27-year-old Denis Phipps, now at Louisville. He hit .221 with 15 home runs and 45 RBIs at Louisville last year.
For now, it will be a mix of Heisey, Paul and Robinson, with Heisey getting the bulk of the work.
And while Heisey and Robinson can both play center, Baker said that Shin-Soo Choo will remain in center field, where he worked all spring.
The plan for now is to have Heisey bat second. Brandon Phillips will move from second to Ludwick’s cleanup spot.
Of course, if this doesn’t work, and depending on Ludwick’s recovery, the Reds could always pull the trigger on a trade. But that would be Plan C.
Right now they’re only flipping through the thin pages of Plan B.