Reds Win in 14 Innings

The Reds dodge some extra-inning bullets and won a fourteen-inning thriller by a score of 3-2 over the Pirates last night at Great American Ball Park. Ryan Ludwick ended the game with a walk-off infield single. It was the fourth consecutive game that manager Dusty Baker gave the start in center field to Chris Heisey over the slumping Drew Stubbs. Heisey homered and his now hitting .287.

The Cincinnati Reds won a thriller last night by besting the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3 in a fourteen- inning affair at Great American Ball Park. Ryan Ludwick was the final batter after he delivered a two-out infield single that plated Devin Mesoraco for the game-winner. The win along with St. Louis's loss at San Diego increased the Reds lead back to 8.5 games and lowered their magic number to twelve games for their second NL Central division championship in three years.

Pittsburgh got on the board first when Andrew McCutchen crushed a Mat Latos pitch over the left field fence to lead off the fourth inning. Later that inning they increased the lead to three by loading the bases before an infield single and a run-scoring ground-out. The Reds cut into the deficit with a solo home run by Chris Heisey in the bottom half of the inning. They tied the score with two in the seventh from a double by Dioner Navarro. That was the last time anyone would cross the plate until seven innings later.

There were some bullets dodged along the way. Aroldis Chapman walked the bases loaded in the tenth before Sam LeCure entered to end the threat with a ground ball. The Reds loaded them in the bottom of the inning before pinch runner Drew Stubbs was forced out at home and Jay Bruce struck out. The Reds stranded a couple of runners who walked in the eleventh and Alfredo Simon worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourteenth which included a force-out at the plate from Joey Votto. Last year's Gold Glove first-baseman Votto launched the throw from a kneeling position after fielding the ball to cut down what would have been the go-ahead run. Mesoraco led off the bottom of that inning with a single and advanced to second when Brandon Phillips arrived safely on a fielder's choice. It looked like the Pirates might survive after Heisey lined out and Votto struck out. Both runners then moved up on a wild pitch before Ludwick ended the game.

Cincinnati had eight hits on the night and Votto reached safely three times by going 1-5 with two walks. Reds batters coaxed seven free passes overall. Latos got no decision from a quality start and allowed three runs on five hits/four walks in six innings while striking out five. Seven Reds relievers combined for eight scoreless innings, allowing four hits/five walks and striking out nine. J.J. Hoover threw two of the innings and Simon worked the final one for the win. Rosters are better equipped to handle long games in September after expansion. Forty-nine players saw action including twenty-five Redlegs.

It appears that manager Dusty Baker has found a way to stop Stubbs from striking out. Unfortunately for Stubbs that way had Heisey starting in center field for the fourth consecutive game. The regular center fielder had gone 5-42 with twenty-one strikeouts over the previous eleven games, lowering his average to .219. Last season Stubbs joined Mark Reynolds in becoming the only players in history to strike out more than 200 times in a single season. This season he's fanned in 30% of his plate appearances which was only a modest improvement over his 34% in 2011.

A couple of years ago it was clear who was the Reds long-term projection in center field. They had invested a first-round pick in Stubbs in the 2006 which was sixteen rounds earlier then their selection of Heisey that same draft. The backup has hit .400 over his last fifteen games to raise his overall average to .287. The Reds success this season has not been accomplished without some lineup juggling by Baker to address injuries and slumps. One high-visibility deficiency has been poor on-base percentages from the two first hitters in the lineup. The return of Votto from the DL and emergence of Ludwick has released Phillips to go back to the leadoff spot he occupied on opening day. Heisey has not shown the plate discipline typically expected from a top-lineup hitter and last night he drew his first walk since July 19. Still, his .324 OB% might be their best option in the two-hole, at least while Stubbs has some time off to work on correcting things.

Since his arrival in 2010 Heisey has managed to be a valuable contributor as a part-time player. Last year his eighteen homers were third highest on the team despite stepping up to the plate only 300 times. That power has not returned this season and last night his seventh long ball came in slightly more plate appearances than he had in 2011. However, his average is .033' higher than his previous career mark and he's played solid defense in all three outfield positions. Given the makeup of other Cincinnati hitters they need a high on-base center fielder setting the table at the top of their lineup more than another home run hitter, which is not to say that Heisey won't contribute an occasional jack himself.

One has to wonder if the draft rounds were swapped if there would be any question on who would get the lion's share of the action. Stubbs is a proven base-stealer and is on his way toward swiping thirty bags for the third consecutive year. Still, you can't steal first and that is not a big part of the Reds' game, ranking fourteenth out of sixteen NL teams in that stat. Until he can better protect the plate it remains doubtful that he'll materialize into the player the Reds expected when they invested the eighth overall selection on him six years ago. It might require a significant reconstruction of his swing to cover the generous strike zone that comes with his 6'4" frame which is not likely going to happen in the final month of this season. In the meantime Heisey is available to provide another option and the Reds will be counting on both of these 27 year-old outfielders as they prepare go for October.

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