CINCINNATI — The decision the Cincinnati hoped they wouldn’t have to make was made Tuesday morning — Joey Votto is resting uncomfortably on the disabled list.
"They did a full work-up on Joey yesterday (Monday) and it is the same injury (strained quadriceps) that has exacerbated," said manager Bryan Price. "There is more soreness and the issue has continued. It’s something he is not going to be able to play with.
"Our plan of attack is to do everything we can to get him back as quickly as we can," Price added. "We don’t have a timetable on how long that will be. We’d like to get him back and able to help us before the year is out."
So the issue for the Reds is: Who is going to cover first base, because the club has no true first basemen on the roster.
Price said there will be a three-pronged coverage plan: catcher Brayan Pena, third baseman Todd Frazier and right fielder Jay Bruce, who made his professional debut at first base Monday.
And Price added, "Don’t be surprised to see some of our other outfielders taking ground balls at first base." That would include left fielder Ryan Ludwick, who has already ordered a first baseman’s mitt and awaits its arrival.
"I’d like to make first base a position where we can rotate people through because it enables us to utilize our bench better," said Price. "We’ve tried that in left field (Ludwick, Skip Schumaker, Chris Heisey) but we’ve still had some guys left out.
"If I rotate Frazier at first base it gets Ramon Santiago in the game," said Price. "If I get Jay Bruce at first base it gets our outfielders more active."
But Price said primarily the position will be manned by Pena, although he’ll still catch Johnny Cueto and catch one of the other pitchers now and then.
Anybody else besides Pena, Frazier and Bruce at first base? "That’s probably The Big Three," said Price. "Joey is our true first baseman. Pena has some limited experience, but very little. Frazier played it in the minors, but came out as a shortstop and played third base, left field and second base. He’s never been a primary first baseman. Bruce hasn’t played it since high school. And Ludwick has never played it."
Ludwick begs to differ with his manager.
"The last time I played first base was when I was five years old," he said. "They put me there because I was the only kid who could catch the ball."
Ludwick was asked if he is willing to play it and he said with a grin, "Of course, man. What am I gonna say, ‘No, sorry, I’m too good for that.’ I told them I have a first baseman’s glove coming
"Obviously, we’re in a bind right now and we have a lot of parts and pieces that need to be put in different areas," Ludwick said. "I’m willing to do whatever."
Ludwick said he worked briefly at first base in 2005 when he played for Cleveland manager Buddy Bell, but never played in a game.
"It was Buddy’s idea because he said as I got older it would help my career, be more valuable the more positions you can play," he said. "It might be late, but it can’t hurt."
Ludwick laughed when asked about the nuances and vagaries of first base and said, "As a kid, I was too athletic to play first base, so I don’t know what’s hard about first base. Couldn’t tell you.
"After I was five, I moved to center field until I broke my hip and then moved to the corner outfield spots and pitched," he said.
Price, though, appreciates and understands the importance of the guy manning first base.
"The old saying was that first basemen are a dime a dozen," said Price. That, of course, isn’t quite what Votto is costing the Reds. "They are a dime a dozen until you get somebody who can’t catch a throw across the infield, or scoop a ball out of the dirt or be in the right position on a relay play. They are very involved in the defense and handle the ball a lot, so it is a very important position."
Bruce discovered that on his maiden voyage at first base Monday. If it was a sink-or-swim situation, Bruce did more swimming than sinking. He made three above-the-shelf plays and made on error on a hard-hit ground ball to his backhand.
The error let in a run but Bruce later hit a two-run home run during a 9-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
"Luckily I drove in more than I let in tonight," said Bruce. "It was fun. I felt bad missing that ball, a tough play, but I expect to make. It was very, very stressful, but that will lessen the more I play it. There are some nuances — where do you go here, where do you go there, cutoffs, relays, trailing the runner."
It is often said that anybody can play first base, but Bruce knows better and said, "I’ve seen it for seven years from right field — a good first baseman makes a difference in a team."
With the trade deadline approaching, could the Reds be on the prowl for a first baseman? Or how about Neftali Soto, a first baseman at class AAA Louisville, who is hitting .348?
Of a trade, Price said, "It could happen, but we’ll see how things unfold over the next couple of weeks. It is a talking point, but right now that’s all it is."
Of Soto, Price said, "We haven’t made that decision and it will be something we talk about a lot with our staff. Soto is hitting .340 in Triple-A and he would be a consideration. Donald Lutz is hitting .200 in Triple-A and has to do more. If he was knocking the cover off the ball, well, OK.
"But by using several of our current guys at first base I can utilize my bench more. I’ve found it a lot harder over the course of the season than I thought it would be to use the entire roster. So I am reluctant to bring up a Triple-A player right now."
Frazier was at first base for Game One of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Cubs and Pena was scheduled for Game Two.