LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Patience isn’t a word that’s often been associated with Chris Heisey. The Reds’ outfielder got to big leagues in part because of his hustling style. It was that hustling style that led to Heisey not just aggravating but actually making worse the right hamstring he originally strained on April 27 at Washington during his first rehab assignment at Double-A Pensacola in May.
“I tried to make a catch that I probably should have let drop,” said Heisey. “It wasn’t a dive as much as a full speed, in between a dive and staying on my feet. I decided to stay on my feet and went down really low and it put all of that torque on my hamstring.”
Heisey is again going through a rehab assignment, this time at Triple-A Louisville, and if all goes as planned he will rejoin the Reds on Tuesday when they open up a two-game series at Oakland before heading to Texas for a three-game series against the Rangers. His return will be welcomed by manager Dusty Baker and a bench that currently lacks right-handed bats.
“There’s a good chance Texas is going to have left-handers and I’m going to need a DH,” said Baker earlier this week. “I’m sending lefthanders up there against lefthanders. Sometimes it works but that’s not the way it was intended to be. We went from left-handed short last year to right-handed short this year.”
Currently the only right-handed bats at Baker’s disposal belong to catchers Devin Mesoraco and Ryan Hanigan (whichever isn’t starting), switch-hitting infielder Cesar Izturis and switch-hitter Derrick Robinson if he isn’t in the starting lineup. Last year the Reds went into the middle of July without any options from the left side before adding Xavier Paul. They signed Jack Hannahan in the offseason to address that issue but injuries to Ryan Ludwick and Heisey have turned that problem to the other side of the plate.
Heisey is just 4-for-19 during his five games with the Bats, including going 0-for-4 three consecutive games after Saturday’s 2-1 loss against Rochester at Louisville Slugger Field. Rehab assignments are about more than stat lines, however.
Heisey hopes this one jumpstarts a season that got off to a slowly before the injury. He was hitting just .173 (13-of-75) in 23 games as he got the first shot at replacing Ludwick following the left fielder suffering a torn right labrum on Opening Day.
“It’s one of those things where I’m trying to learn some patience, trying to watch the game,” said Heisey. “I’ve gotten to see a lot of games in different capacities knowing I have no chance to play. I’m trying to find the positives in this time I’ve had away from the game.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself as a player watching other guys, watching the guys that are successful and learning what they do.”
Heisey said he’s been able to swing a bat since three days after the injury. He’s been attempting to tighten up his swing while slowly regaining confidence to run full speed. He’s been tested a few times in left field, including making a running catch going toward the line Friday night. He had three putouts Saturday.
“Going half-to-three quarter speed isn’t how I’ve gotten to the big leagues and so it’s tough for me to back it down even though this time I’ve been able to,” said Heisey. “It’s been good. I’ve been able to pick my spots to test it out here lately. The first couple of games I was kind of coasting around out there to see where I was at. You can’t simulate game speed in practice. No matter how much you try you just can’t so that’s been something I’ve been working on, getting back to game speed and feeling where I can go after it and where I can’t and so far everything has passed the test. I’m feeling good about it.”
Paul and Robinson have been manning left field, with the occasional appearance by Donald Lutz, in Heisey’s absence and have done a commendable job in that spot so Heisey won’t just walk into that role. But as Shin-Soo Choo continues to struggle against left-handed pitching, there will be opportunities for Heisey to get playing time.
“We haven’t talked about it,” said Heisey. “I just expect to go up there and whatever capacity I play in, like I’ve always said, I’ll be ready to do it and give it my best shot. Hopefully I can help contribute to some wins.”