Will Ryan Ludwick's return from the DL be the spark the Reds need down the stretch?
By HAL MCCOY FS Ohio
CINCINNATI — Fans unrealistically expect Ryan Ludwick to be the savior, to be the guy who flies into Great American Ball Park with an ‘S’ on his chest, a one-man cavalry to save the season.
And it would be fair for Ludwick to say that’s unfair. He doesn’t. In fact, he says those expectations are to be expected and he expects to do just that.
Ludwick hasn’t played for the
Cincinnati Reds since Opening Day when he dove head first into third base on a slide that wrecked his shoulder. Now, nearly five months later, he will be activated in time for a game Monday in Chicago.
“I don’t know if that’s unfair, I wouldn’t say that’s unfair,” Ludwick says of the expectations. “I helped this team last year and that’s what they’re expecting this year. I signed a two-year deal, I’m a guy who came in hitting clean up and there is a lot of expections for anybody in that slot in the order.”
Manager Dusty Baker won’t slip the 34-year-old left fielder right back into the No. 4 spot in the batting order.
“We have to see what he can bring to the table and if he is the same Luddy,” said Baker. “He is operating from way behind and we certainly miss him. This guy is a run producer. But it is hard to put him right back in either
Jay Bruce’s spot (No. 5) or
Brandon Phillips’ spot (No. 4) because they’ve been driving in runs and Brandon has really come throurh. I have him slated for No. 6, which is a big-time run producing spot if your fourth or fifth guy doesn’t pick them up, especially in a two-out situation, which we’ve been lacking.”
During a 10-game rehabilitation stay with Class AAA Lousville Ludwick was 5 for 38 (.132) with one home run, one trible, four RBI, no walks and nine strikeouts. But at one time he was 1 for 28 and he had a hit in each of his last four games.
“It was tougher than I thought it would be at the plate,” said Ludwick. “The speed of the game was surprising. You know, you work out 2 ½ months before spring training, then I have all camp to get ready, then everybody starts on a level playing field.
“Well, I had a week-and-half (of rehab) to get ready,” he said. “I got thrown into the fire with everybody who is in mid-season form.”
And that’s exactly what will happen when he returns to the lineup next week with the Reds.
“My shoulder, my body, feels real good,” he added. “My swing was long at times. But I made a diving play, head first, which I wasn’t supposed to do, but it was instinct. And I got through that test. The injury? That feels great.
“It’s the timing and the speed of the game that is the toughest, a lot harder than I thought it would be.”
Ludwick agrees that the majors might be even faster, but he says he also will be dealing with familiarity.
“I use videos as a crutch, watched a lot of it and become very familiar with pitchers I face up here,” he said. “Take a guy like Travis Wood, who I will face in Chicago. I already see him in my head, I know exactly what his ball is going to do, how he pitches, how he attacks me. I didn’t face one guy (at Louisville) that I knew. I was facing a bunch of guys that I didn’t know which way their ball would move and didn’t know what their secondary pitch was. So, that’s no crutch. The performance wasn’t great.
“But I finished up the last four games by getting a hit in each game and hit a home run, which was a mental hurdle for me to show I still have power,” he said. “Now I have to get in season’s form as quickly as possible.”
Ludwick wants to believe his presence in a lineup that lacks offensive punch will be beneficial. And he harkens back to when
Joey Votto returned to the lineup last season after missing 48 games due to two knee surgeries.
“He was very competitive when he came back, he was on base a lot, he was getting some key hits, so that’s what I’d like to do — get some key hits and help this team win,” he said.
And what is to keep Ludwick from trying too hard to pleasing the fans, trying to do too much?
“That’s real hard not to do,” he said. “I’m a guy who notoriously hits doubles, home runs and drives in runs. That’s what I want to do and if I can’t do that it will be tough. People are expecting me to come in and be in mid-season form and hit 10 to 15 home runs the rest of the season.
“Realistically, I’m not think about that,” he said. “I’m thinking about trying to take productive at-bats, whether that’s drawing a walk, hitting a single or hitting a double or hitting a home run. I need to swing at strikes and letting the balls go by. That’s what I’m dealing with now — strike zone judgement and recognizing pitches out of the pitcher’s hand.”
Ludwick was nearly unrecognizable as he made the rouns of the clubhouse Saturday, shaking hands with teammates. He was nearly clean-shaven after growing a lengthy beard, “Because I said I wasn’t going to shave until I came back to play.”
Then he turned to clubhouse manager Rick Stowe and said, “I need some underwear, some batting gloves, some socks, a supporter. . .”
And what he wants the most are some big game-winning hits.