Ludwick Solidifying Reds Outfield

Earlier this season a lackluster offense kept manager Dusty Baker shuffling his lineup. Ryan Ludwick was hitting only .201 in mid June before going on a tear to raise his average over .260 and increasing his home run total to a team second-best 19. He drove in four last night as the Reds continue to roll wihout their best hitter, Joey Votto.

Cincinnati won at home over San Diego last night behind four RBI from Ryan Ludwick. They were in a two-run hole before their first at-bat thanks to a Chase Headley home run. It didn't stay that way for long because home runs by Zach Cozart and Ludwick in the bottom of the first gave them a 3-2 lead. San Diego retook the lead with two runs in the fourth but the Reds came back again the next inning with RBI hits by Ludwick and Jay Bruce. Finally they played add-on in the seventh with another RBI hit by Ludwick. That play ended with a bizarre double play and a couple of runners cut down on the base paths, but it was all the Reds needed for the win. Ludwick led the offense with three hits while Drew Stubbs added two.

On the mound Bronson Arroyo picked up the win despite not having one of his better starts. The veteran allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings. Three relievers tossed one scoreless inning each including Jonathan Broxton's debut as a Red and Aroldis Chapman's closing out the ninth for his 23rd save. Pittsburgh was also a winner last night so the Reds lead in the NL Central remains at three.

The Reds have had a bit of a revolving door in the outfield since Adam Dunn's departure in 2008. They got good contribution from Johnny Gomes after his call-up the next season but his productivity faded after the All Star break in 2010. Finally he took a .211 batting average with him in a trade to the Nationals last year for a minor leaguer. In recent years they've also tried filling holes in center field via free agency and have gotten very forgettable results. Some of the more unsuccessful signings have been Corey Patterson (hit .205 in 08), Willie Taveras (.240 in 09), and Fred Lewis (.230 last year).

Not dismayed by the lack of results the Reds brought in two more veteran outfielders for this season in Ludwick and Willie Harris. Harris kept their success, or lack thereof, rate intact when he was sent down to Louisville earlier this season with a .114 average in almost 50 plate appearances. Ludwick appeared to be going down the same road when he was hitting .201 on June 13. After that his bat caught fire.

Since that time he's hit .339/.398 on-base in 35 games. That span also includes eleven home runs and a .719 slug pct. Multiple hitters in the Reds lineup have picked up their offense since Joey Votto went on the DL earlier this month and Ludwick is on the top of the list. The result has been a 13-3 record since their slugger became unavailable. Overall this season his average is up to .264 and his 19 home runs are second on the team, only two behind Jay Bruce who has over 100 more plate appearances.

Most of the free agent signings have been attempts to address the need for a leadoff hitter. The Reds currently have the best record in the majors despite the worst on-base percentage from that spot. Manager Dusty Baker's strong desire to put a right-handed bat behind Votto caused him to pull the team's best option, Brandon Phillips, into the four-hole. Phillips has hit well there, but as a result of him leaving the top spot Reds #1 hitters have struggled with a .201 average. Upon Votto's return Ludwick may provide a right-handed cleanup batter than can allow Phillips to go back to the top of the lineup where he began this season.

Just one player stepping up can sometimes have positive ripples over the entire roster. In the past Chris Heisey has been a valuable fourth outfielder where he can play all three positions and last season hit eighteen homers in around 300 plate appearances. He also has a lifetime .333 average in 80 plate appearances as a pinch hitter. When Ludwick was hitting .201 it appeared that he would no longer be available as a reserve from getting pulled into regular duty. Now Heisey can be utilized in a role in which he's thrived in the past.

Heisey can still expect to see frequent action in left spelling Ludwick who recently turned 34. After last night's game Baker was quoted as saying: "We want to keep him on fire. He's not old, but he's not a spring chicken either. We have to monitor his workload so he can stay strong and stay fresh." Actually Heisey's strengthens another weakness where the Reds struggled earlier this season, the bench. Todd Frazier has been invaluable filling in for injuries to Scott Rolen and now Votto after starting off the season at Louisville. Even midseason pick-up Xavier Paul has gone 7-13 since his call-up and provided an elusive left-handed bat off the bench. 162 games is long season and bench weakness will eventually get exposed, especially in the DH-less NL where late inning strategies utilize reserves more to prevent pitchers from coming to the plate.

The Reds have achieved the major's best record while relying on pitching staff with the second lowest ERA in the NL and a mediocre offense until, ironically enough, they lost their best hitter. Their current tear has put up twelve W's out of their last thirteen games. They will go for another series win in the finale of a four-game home set against the Padres on Thursday. After that second place Pittsburgh invades Great American Ball Park. At the time Votto's injury was announced many Reds fans were just hoping to remain within striking distance when the Bucs came to town. Instead they've extended their lead and will be taking the field with intentions of increasing it more this weekend.

News from the Farm:

Louisville was idle yesterday and will resume their schedule by hosting Charlotte Thursday.

Pensacola dropped two at Tennessee when they finished a suspended game and lost a regularly scheduled one. The Smokies finished off a 4-2 win to take the first one. Josh Fellhauer and Ryan LaMarre had two hits each for the Wahoos. Kyle Lotzkar got the start Tuesday and allowed two runs in 3+ innings. Brian Pearl allowed the game winner Wednesday and took the loss. After starting the season strong and making the California League All Star team Pearl now has a 7.29 ERA in 17 games since his promotion.

In the second game Tennessee won a 1-0 pitcher's duel. The Pensacola offense was limited to two hits. Daniel Corcino did his part by throwing five shutout innings and allowing only three hits. Curtis Parch gave up a walk-off homer in the seventh for the loss.

Billy Hamilton Theft Watch:

In the first game Hamilton singled in the fifth and stole second base. He failed to reach base in the evening game. He now has 117 steals in 102 games.

Bakersfield blew a ninth-inning lead and lost 7-6 at San Jose. Devin Lohman had three hits and drove in two for the Blaze. He's now 5-10 over the past two games. Niko Vasquez, Travis Mattair, Steve Selsky, and Kurtis Muller had two hits each including a home run by Selsky. Daniel Renken got the start and allowed five runs on five hits in six innings. Kyle McMyne allowed two in 1+ innings for the loss.

Dayton scored three in the first and held on for a 4-2 home win over Lansing. The Dragons did their damage on only six hits. Robert Stephenson got another win by allowing only one run on solo homer. He gave up three hits in five innings while striking out five with one walk. Michael Dennhardt shut out the Lugnuts for the final two innings for the save.

Billings blew a four run lead in the ninth in a 7-6 loss at Helena. Beau Amaral and Brandon Dailey had three hits each for the Mustangs including a two-run homer by Dailey. The infielder is batting .359 in 24 games since coming to Billings from Dayton. Ismael Guillon allowed only one run in five innings on three hits. He did have to navigate around four walks while striking out six. Alejandro Chacin was victimized by four unearned runs while allowing five for his first loss.

The AZL Reds scored eight in the final three innings for a 9-2 win at the AZL Angels. Leadoff hitter Brent Peterson had three hits to raise his average to .323. Jonathan Reynoso and Willfrel Estevez added two hits each. St. John's hoopster Amir Garrett got the start and allowed two runs in three innings. Wandy Perez did not allow any of the five hits against him in 3+ innings to cross the plate and was rewarded with the win.

The DSL Reds took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth before losing 5-4 at the DSL Padres. Aristides Aquino and Jose Raga had two hits each for the Reds. Franderlin Romero threw five no-hit innings while striking out seven and didn't allow any of his five walks to cross the plate. Josue Catellano blew the save and took the loss.

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