Ludwick to Undergo Surgery

The Reds re-vamped their lineup over the season by acquiring Shin-Soo Choo to lead off and re-signing Ryan Ludwick to clean up releasing Brandon Phillips to move into the number two slot ahead of Joey Votto. Just two games into the season that plan has been put on hold from Ludwick's injury and it appears Phillips will once again get pulled back into the fourth slot.

It was no surprise yesterday when the announcement was made that Ryan Ludwick would require surgery to repair torn cartilage in his shoulder after he dislocated it sliding into third base during the Reds opening game Monday. While it is uncertain who will be batting cleanup for Cincinnati in the immediate future, one thing for sure is it won't be Ludwick which will leave manager Dusty Baker scrambling for a solution just one game into the season.

Much attention was brought to the Reds over the offseason with the acquisition of Shin-Sin Choo to upgrade the leadoff position and allow Brandon Phillips to return to a preferred two-hole behind him. Now it appears that Phillips is once again heading back to clean up and provide a right-handed bat behind Joey Votto. Jay Bruce has sufficient power to man the four-hole but Baker has always seemed reluctant to bat his two left-handed power hitters consecutively. It protects against opponents bringing in the lefty specialist to face both together late in the game. On the other hand, one would think it would give an advantage against a right-handed starter, as most of them are, during the first three or four times through the lineup earlier in the game, but based on past history that is one trade-off that Baker does not want to make.

Though Phillips is not the optimal clean-up hitter, he can drive in runs and the Reds could do worse. Twice in his career he's had over 90 RBI. Of course the main problem with Phillips batting cleanup is that he cannot get on base in front of Joey Votto or another cleanup hitter. Also, it was just one year ago when the Reds were searching high and low for top-lineup batters, hence the offseason deal for Choo.

One possible solution might be Zach Cozart. The first thing that may come to mind was the low on-base percentage he had while leading off last season. However, in over 100 plate appearances he had batting second he managed a .324 average with a nice .378 on-base percentage. He's an aggressive hitter that could really benefit from improved offerings received while Votto is in the on-deck circle.

Filling in during Ludwick's absence is Chris Heisey who is a solid replacement, but also doesn't have the on-base skills desired for the top of the lineup. However, like Cozart, his AVG/OB improved to a respectable .297/.330 in over 100 PA from the two-hole in 2012. Having a hitter like Votto provides benefits that ripple throughout the lineup and batting him behind one of these aggressive swingers could be an effective combination. Both Cozart and Heisey offer some pop in their bat and are very capable of producing double digit homers again.

Another option would be to move up Todd Frazier from sixth into cleanup and leave Phillips hitting second. For some reason Baker was reluctant to use him in cleanup much last season even though he had the highest slugging percentage of any right-hander on the team outside of Ludwick. Part of the reason for his absence there was the presence of Ludwick. Perhaps Baker didn't want to put extra pressure on a rookie. Now that he's in his second season the manager may feel better about hitting him in the middle.

Of course another question is who will take Heisey's spot on the bench while he's in the starting lineup? That one might be a bit of a head-scratcher because the last two outfielders sent down during spring training were Denis Phipps and Derrick Robinson. Robinson is a switch hitter and Phipps hits right-handed, so he could compliment the other OF sub, Xavier Paul. Adding either one of them will require an adjustment to the 40-man roster.

It wasn't that long ago when the lineup pulled together in the absence of its best hitter and pulled away from NL Central competition while Votto was sidelined with a knee injury. The challenge will come much earlier this year, but having a healthy Votto can make up for some other deficiencies. Reds bats were quiet in their opener, but whatever Baker's solution is for replacing Ludwick will be known very soon as they resume their season with Game 2 tonight.

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