CINCINNATI — The original Cincinnati Reds lineup card for Friday night’s game showed Chris Heisey leading off and Shin-Soo Choo batting second.
For most of the season Choo batted leadoff, until recently when the opposition put a left-handed pitcher on the mound.
Choo, though, has been a ghost against left handed pitchers, down around .150 most of the season, so lately manager Dusty Baker dropped him to second against left handers.
And the Pittsburgh Pirates sent a strong, tough left hander to the mound Friday night — Francisco Liriano (9-3, 2.00) — Baker scrawled Choo’s name into the No. 2 hole.
Then, before batting practice, as lightning flashed and danced in downtown Cincinnati, something struck Baker. A bolt? An epiphany?
Whatever, he changed his mind and put Choo back into the leadoff spot and dropped Heisey to second.
“Not so much any kind of feeling, but I’m going to try to leave Choo there (leadoff) for a while,” said Baker. “He seems like he’s starting to figure out left handers, even though this guy (Liriano) is tough on left handers.
“But Choo is still my leadoff guy,” Baker added. “I still might drop him to second once in a while, maybe when Derrick Robinson is in there.”
Baker, though, liked what he saw of Choo in the last four games before the All-Star game, a split of four games with the Braves.
“It looks to me like Choo is on his way back,” said Baker. “He had a hell of a series in Atlanta’
When he bats leadoff, Choo leads all No. 1 hitters in on-base average, walks, home runs and doubles.
“He has been down a little because things always go down and nobody stays up the way he was the first two months,” said Baker. “Maybe Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. But not many. Things go down, but Choo is on the way back up.”
Elsewhere on the injury front, disabled pitcher Johnny Cueto is back in the Dominican Republic due to a family illness, but is due back Saturday.
“He has been following his rehab program, one we gave him to follow when he left,” said Baker. “As he has gotten more and more mature he has work harder and we can trust him more. We don’t have to check on him.”
But the news on set-up man Sean Marshall is not good. He was expected to go out on a rehab assignment this weekend, but suffered a setback during Thursday’s workout.
“He had a minor setback on his throwing program,” said Baker. “He went to see a doctor and he’ll get back on his program soon. And our other set-up guy on the D.L., Big Broxton (Jonathan Broxton) is doing real well.
“But we can’t put a timetable on injuries,” said Baker. “The only timetable is the body itself and everybody is different.”
And that brought him to left fielder Ryan Ludwick, injured on Opening Day sliding into third and still on the D.L. But Ludwick shocked everybody Thursday by taking batting practice and said he is ready when the team is ready.
“He looked real good, too,” said Baker. “But everybody is four months ahead of him. This is like spring training. And he always has been a slow starter. It might be able to go out on rehab soon.
“But we have to give him enough at-bats somewhere because this is not spring training,” Baker said. “He wasn’t supposed to be back now, but he worked his butt off. This guy must have a strong mind to beat the clock on this. If there is a thing called will power, he has it.”
And Heisey is getting more playing time since his return off an extensive occupation of the disabled list because he is swinging a semi-productive bat — .333 in 12 games (nine starts) with five doubles, two home runs and five RBI.
“He is much better than before he got hurt,” said Baker. “He would have really helped us during Ryan Ludwick’s absence had he been swinging like he is now.”
The Reds made a roster move, too, calling up right handed first baseman Neftali Soto and sending out, temporarily, left handed pitcher Tony Cingrani.
The move is to give the Reds some needed right handed bat strength for the three-game series against Pittsburgh. Cingrani will return Tuesday to pitch one game of a doubleheader in San Francisco.
“The Pirates are starting two left handers and they have two left handers in the bullpen,” said Baker. “We are left handed strong hitting and those guys are left handed strong pitching, so we need right handed help. Who knows? Maybe Soto can pop one or two or give us a game-winning hit.”