TOM USHER: Reds regrouping after injuries

April 18, 2013

Reds manager Dusty Baker never drew it up this way.

Chris Heisey is in left field in place of Ryan Ludwick, who had surgery on his dislocated right shoulder.

Left-handed set-up man Sean Marshall is on the disabled list with a sore left shoulder.

And now, joining the disabled is No. 1 pitcher right-hander Johnny Cueto, who was placed on the D.L. with a strained back.

Could this be one of THOSE years?

Who knows? But injuries seem to go in cycles.

Last year all five Reds’ starters made every start. They used only six starters all year, with the sixth being Todd Redmond, who filled in with one start on Aug. 18 during a day-night doubleheader against the Cubs.

Did anyone think this kind of fortune was going to continue for another whole year?

Ludwick’s injury on Opening Day was a huge loss. He will be out until at least the All-Star break. His void can’t be filled by anyone currently on the roster.

Last year Ludwick hit .275 with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs. His home run total was the most since he hit 37 for St. Louis in 2008.

Heisey is a good outfielder with a plus arm, but seems to be settling in to that fourth-outfielder role. Last year he hit .265 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs.

In 2011, he hit .254 with 18 home runs in only 279 at-bats, so there was a sprinkle of optimism that he could deliver in Ludwick’s absence.

He may still.

But so far, Heisey is off to a .152 star over 46 at-bats. At this rate, if speedster Billy Hamilton (155 stolen bases last year) continues to hit AAA pitching, he could be up with the Reds before the September call-ups.

Marshall’s loss puts more of a strain on the middle and set-up men like J.J. Hoover, Logan Ondrusek, Sam LeCure and Manny Parra and Jonathan Broxton. It also drops lefty Parra into more critical situations than he was originally designed for before the injury.

Marshall appeared in 73 games last year with a 2.51 ERA. He struck out 74 in 61 innings. In the last three years, his ERAs have been 2.65, 2.26 and 2.51.

And now No. 1 starter Cueto is hurt.

It was Cueto who left Game 1 of the Division Series against the Giants last year when he suffered an oblique strain after throwing only eight pitches.

But before that, Cueto made all 33 of his starts, going 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA.

In fact, all five Reds starters made every start in the rotation last year.

So maybe the rotation was past due this year for a trip to the disabled list.

Getting the call to replace Cueto is 23-year-old, 6-foot-4 left-hander Tony Cingrani. Last year he was named the Reds’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Baseball America ranked him as the team’s No. 3 prospect behind No. 1 Billy Hamilton and right-hander Robert Stephenson.

Cingrani, a third-round pick in 2011 out of Rice, was 5-1 with a 1.11 ERA at Class A Bakersfield last year. He was then promoted to AA Pensacola and went 5-3 with a 2.12.

Cingrani was on the fast track for Cincinnati, but his timetable was set on fire when Cueto went down.

Injuries happen. The key is having enough money to stock the roster with quality backups.

That’s something the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers can do on a routine basis.

For teams like the Reds and Indians, there is a much smaller margin for drafting/trading mistakes or injuries.

The Reds have survived the nightmare-like trade of Josh Hamilton to Texas for the wildly erratic right-hander Edinson Volquez. In fact, sending Volquez and a few others to San Diego for right-hander Mat Latos was a boost to the rotation.

Now we’ll see if they can navigate through a minefield of injuries.