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The Reds have been one of the more banged-up teams in baseball through the season’s first 35ish games. Along with Oakland and Colorado, Cincinnati is one of only three clubs in the majors to play an extended amount of time without its Opening Day starter (Johnny Cueto) and at least two other members of its Opening Day starting lineup (Ryan Ludwick and Ryan Hanigan).
The Reds are 22-16 and currently sit 2.5 games back in the race for the NL Central. After sweeping the Brewers, the team has managed to calm their ever-panicky fans a tad—I realize the natural reaction of a Cincinnati fanbase is to panic at the first sight of a season going anything but perfect (since there’d be so much to panic about if the team were 20-18?), but luckily, common sense prevails. Common sense says that it’s only May and, far more importantly, common sense says the Redlegs will eventually learn how to close out a game on the road (right?). Oh yeah, and common sense also says that the Reds will win 93ish games if they continue at the same pace. Although the Cardinals are on pace for 95ish, the roster—read: PITCHING—isn’t built to continue that pace. Roughly 93 wins should be enough to take the division.
Anyhow, one of the biggest positives for the Reds thus far is that the replacements for the aforementioned injured players have not been a major weakness. If anything, the Reds early season injury woes could be a very good thing for the franchise’s long-term outlook.
Injured Player: Johnny Cueto
Replacement: Tony Cingrani
Analyses: Considering his early season form (2.60 ERA), and his overall dominance last season, you’d think very few positives could ever come from Cueto missing a start. Unless, of course, it results in the emergence Tony Cingrani. In his five starts in place of Cueto, Cingrani is 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA. Even more impressively, Cingrani is averaging 11.89 strikeouts per nine innings, second on the team behind Aroldis Chapman’s absurd 13.76. His ascent has not only allowed the Reds to rely on the same quality of pitching that Cueto would’ve provided in the rotation, but it’s also allowed ample time for Cueto to recover. Cingrani was forced into a starting role earlier than Cincinnati hoped he would be, but it looks to be an accidental success of massive proportions. He adds a much need left-handed starter for the future and will likely force one of the Reds other starters out of the rotation once Cueto returns. (Looking at you two, Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo.)
Injured Players: Ryan Ludwick (1 start) and Chris Heisy (17 starts)
Replacement Players: Xavier Paul (14 starts), Donald Lutz (3 starts) and Derrick Robinson (4 starts)
Analyses: To put it nicely, Ryan Ludwick isn’t a young man. Although his power is missed, he realistically had less than two years of high-level play left in him. His freak shoulder injury, which occurred sliding into third on Opening Day, forced the Reds to look toward a long-term replacement in left field. Chris Heisy, who admits he’s comfortable coming off the bench, assured that he shouldn’t be a starter in his 17-game stint with the first team, which ended with a hamstring injury and a lowly .173 average. Since then, Paul, Robinson, and Lutz have stepped in adequately. I’m not sure there’s a future star in the bunch, but they’re all swinging the bat above .275 and have combined to commit just one error.
Injured Player: Ryan Hanigan
Replacement: Devin Mesoraco
Analyses: Hanigan calls a great game behind the plate, but at the time of his oblique injury in late April, he was hitting a dismal .079 (since returning late last week, his average is up to .114). Like Ludwick, he isn’t getting any younger. Mesoraco has long been touted as the Reds’ future man at catcher, so there isn’t a more ideal time for him to gain significant experience than when Hanigan was hitting so poorly. He’s certainly not killing the ball (.242/.342/.364), but he’s hitting better than Hanigan, and extended time as an everyday starter should help push him towards the catcher the Reds need him to be in the future.