Just like that—the Cincinnati Reds proved they aren’t indestructible. Questions that seemed indisputable are now lingering in the Queen City.
It only took three innings to witness the first casualty in Ryan Ludwick. A heads-up base running move by Ludwick earned him a likely extensive spot on the DL and an early-season surgery.
It started with a wild pitch by Los Angeles Angels ace Jered Weaver. Jay Bruce was at the plate and Shin-Soo Choo scored from third on a very close play at home.
Weaver did not put his glove at the front of home plate and Choo’s foot made it in before Weaver could apply the tag.
While Weaver was busy arguing with the home plate umpire, Ludwick took off from second to third and slid awkwardly into the bag, injuring his right shoulder.
The question is, what to do now?
A lot will depend on how much time Ludwick will have to spend on the DL.
Paul Daugherty of Cincinnati.com lightheartedly talked about a Scott Rolen return. But Daugherty quickly dismissed the idea of a soon to be 38-year-old returning quickly enough to make any impact.
The most important thing the Reds can do is not hit the panic button. While there’s not much depth in Triple-A for the Reds, there are some options.
Denis Phipps could be a decent power replacement. Phipps has only 10 at-bats in the majors with three hits including a home run.
He had a decent spring, hitting .277/.320/.553 with 13 hits in 47 at-bats; however, Phipps might need more time to develop in Triple-A. Last season he hit .221 with 103 strikeouts.
Another candidate is Donald Lutz. Although Lutz hasn’t spent any time in the majors or even above Double-A, he caught Baker’s eye this spring, posting a .277/.327/.532 slash line with 13 hits and two home runs in 47 at-bats .
He certainly has the power, collecting 22 home runs last year in the minors, and is thought of as the possible future replacement when Ludwick’s two-year contract ends.
Lutz could be a surprise call-up to the majors, but the Reds will likely let him get more at-bats in the minors.
The most likely option could be Derrick Robinson. Robinson was one of the final cuts in spring training this year and was reassigned to Triple-A Louisville.
Robinson could be an option as he hit .300/.327/.440 in 50 at-bats. He had 15 hits and eight RBI this spring and definitely earned his extended time on the Reds' spring training roster.
Although Robinson is a center fielder, he could be a good backup option for Xavier Paul and Chris Heisey.
Chris Heisey is likely the one to get the majority of playing time in Ludwick’s absence. Heisey had an amazing bases-loaded at-bat that could’ve had fans saying Ryan-who? However, he eventually struck out, putting those fans in panic mode.
Dusty Baker will logically use a lefty/righty platoon of Paul and Heisey until Ludwick returns.
Who should get the majority of playing time for Ludwick?
The best bet is the Reds play this one out and see how long it will take for their veteran outfielder to to return to the lineup.
Remember, there are still 161 games left in the season and any drastic moves could hurt the Reds down the line.
With Cincinnati's current payroll, I’d expect the cheapest alternative possible.