CINCINNATI — For most of this season, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker hasn’t had to reshuffle the deck and ask for a new deal when it came to his position players.
He did lose veteran third baseman Scott Rolen to an always-lurking shoulder problem and Brandon Phillips encountered hamstring issues, but grinned, bore it and played through it.
Now, though, an issue has arisen. Center fielder Drew Stubbs is having a sore oblique tended to by the medical staff and his length of absence is undetermined.
“Man, we need Stubby,” said Baker, referring to Stubbs with his nickname of endearment. “We’ll miss his speed and his defense.”
So, Baker is shuffling the deck and saying, “Deal ’em.”
Chris Heisey and Ryan Ludwick have shared left field so far this season, but now Heisey shifts to center field and Ludwick will man left on a more regular basis — the configuration Baker used Thursday night when the Reds dropped a 5-4 10-inning decision to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Although Ludwick is hitting only .207, his other numbers are more productive for his 125 at-bats — eight homers for fourth most on the team, and 26 RBI, fourth most on the team.
On Thursday night, when the Reds trailed the Pirates, 2-1, in the fifth inning, Ludwick reached the second deck of the left field seats with a home run that tied it, 2-2. Then, was it Instant Replay or Memorex? Facing closer Joel Hanraham in the ninth with his team down a run, Ludwick struck again, drilling his second home run of the night to tie it, 4-4, a 431-foot flight that also crash-landed in the upper deck.
Ludwick’s smile was broader than a two-homer smile, broadened by the fact that it was the Pirates who traded for him in mid-season, then let him go after the season.
Alas, the smile turned upside down in the 10th inning when Ludwick came to bat with the tying and winning runs on base, with two outs, and he struck out.
“This is a chance for Ludwick and Heisey to do better than they have so far, a good opportunity,” said Baker. “You still need some hits, you still need some walks, to put the pitcher in a stretch and turn the lineup around.”
Heisey is hitting .263 with only one home run and 12 RBI in 137 at-bats. Both have struck out 32 times, but Heisey has drawn only six walks to 12 for Ludwick.
“Ludwick certainly is better than a .207 hitter,” Baker said. “He is 65 or 70 points off where he should be satisfied to be. I haven’t seen too many Joe Carters around.”
And what did Baker mean by that?
“Joe Carter would hit about .220, but still drive in 100 runs,” said Baker. “That’s how Joe Carter was.”
And about Heisey’s defense in center field, Baker said, “Well, he’s not Drew Stubbs. But who is? Yeah, Heisey is good. He just doesn’t have the speed of Stubbs, but who does? But we need somebody to play there for a period of time and play well.”
Heisey astonished the crowd Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates when he roamed from center to the left center wall, timed a leap, and snagged a ball off the wall, robbing Rod Barajas of a sure-fire double.
“The ball was high so I had plenty of time to make the angle to the wall and I knew I’d have time to make a leap,” said Heisey. “When they’re high like that, you have time to gauge. The hardest play is a hard line drive that you don’t have time to even look back to see where the wall is.”
As if to show his manager and any doubters that his glove is as quick as the eye, Heisey made another above-and-beyond catch Thursday against the Pirates. With runners on second and third and one out, Pittsburgh’s Garrett Jones roped a low liner to right-center. Heisey fled to his left, stretched out his body and rescued the baseball before it could hit the grass. A runner scored after the catch, a sacrifice fly, but Heisey prevented a two-run double and much more damage.
Heisey plays all three outfield positions and said, “People ask me all the time which is my favorite. I like that I get to play them all at different times because it changes things up for me. But whatever, whenever and wherever they need me, I’ll relish the opportunity and try to help the team win.”
He and Ludwick both tried Thursday, but this one saw the Pirates become mythbusters against previously perfect Aroldis Chapman.
Asked to protect a 4-4 lead in the 10th, Chapman brought in his 0.00 ERA for 30 innings of work this season, including 30 of his last batters retired without a hit. But he gave up a 2-and-2 double to No. 7 hitter Clint Barmes and a double on a 99 miles an hour fastball to No. 8 hitter/catcher Mike McKenry and the spell of perfection was not only broken, but Chapman was plastered with the defeat.