The Reds have recently experienced an illness bug. Now, the injury bug has bitten the roster once again. Finally, Drew Stubbs was placed on the disabled list after going more than a week without being able to contribute. Chris Heisey is listed as day-to-day after being pulled during the last game of the Indians series due to a mild strain of his left groin. That left Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce as the only outfielders on the active roster.
Yes, Todd Frazier can play outfield, but he’s more of a left fielder. If you start him in left, the who’s in center? You don’t want to move Jay Bruce there even though he has played there before. So, who?
With the DLing of Stubbs and the unknown daily status of Heisey, the Reds called up Willie Harris. And the collective Reds fan base groans…
Like Frazier, Harris is more a corner outfielder now despite the fact he has played that position in 237 games during his career. He’s played left field more than any other outfield position.
No, Dusty Baker turned to an unlikely source: Wilson Valdez. Prior to this season, Valdez had played center field all of one game. That was a two inning stint when he was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers…back in 2007. The move, for the here and now, paid dividends last night. At least offensively it did.
On a nightly basis, Reds skipper Dusty Baker receives extreme criticism for his lineups. That criticism revolves around a theory that Baker is almost always prone to put certain players that are playing a certain position in a certain spot in the batting order. Well, last night Valdez, entering the game with a batting average of .211 in limited duty, was slotted in the 2-hole. Honestly, I don’t get it either, but, hey, I’m not the skipper.
In his first three ABs, Valdez had provided zero offense: ground out in the 1st, ground out in the 3rd and a line out in the 5th. His bat awoke just in time for the 7th…and the AB could not have been timed any better.
With a 4-1 score, Valdez approached the plate with runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out. Valdez took the second pitch from Mets reliever Jeremy Hefner and pulled it down the third base line plating Bronson Arroyo and Zack Cozart. A 4-1 game was now 6-1. Didn’t hurt that the infield was playing in either. The importance of that double? A five run lead always feels better than a three run lead. One swing cannot put the opponent ahead or even tie the game.
Would that ever prove to be important as in the top of the 7th, Arroyo allowed a two-run homer to Scott Hairston, cutting the Reds lead to 6-3. But Valdez was not done…
Harris? He was brought in to pinch-hit in the top of the 9th. Harris now has four hits on the season as he hit a ground-rule double down the left field line. Cozart got Harris to 3rd with a ground out and Valdez would pull through again. A sacrifice fly to center would plate Harris for a 7-3 Reds lead. One swing can now, at best, tie the game.
Um, that wouldn’t happen. Aroldis Chapman entered the game (even though it wasn’t a save situation) and needed 11 pitches (8 for strikes) to retire the Mets in order. And to the surprise of some, he didn’t throw all fastballs, 8 fastballs, 3 changeups. I’m starting to wonder what happened to his slider. Anyway, the last pitch of the game was a whiff and Chapman’s fastest of the game: 98.6 mph. One inning, two strikeouts. Game over. That’s the Chapman we’ve seen most of 2012.
No one will ever confuse Valdez for an everyday player, but this even greater positional flexibility could serve him and the Reds well for the remainder of 2012.
I just don’t want to see him on the mound…unless it’s like the 19th inning.