Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 13, 2013

AARON SNYDER: Change can put charge in Reds

Aaron Snyder
The Independent

ASHLAND — Do the Reds need this All-Star break or what? Or, perhaps another series with the Giants.

Other than that three-game sweep to start the month, the last few weeks have been nothing short of discouraging.

Before Friday’s game in Atlanta, the Reds were 7-12 overall since June 20.

The most assuring aspect of the team is starting pitching, as earned run averages are between 2.69 and 3.70 among the starters.

However, all the pieces aren’t clicking into place right now.

As the division gap widens and the wild card lead — four games ahead of Washington — diminishes, is there a reason to be highly concerned about this season?

Or do the Reds just need a few days rest to rejuvenate for a third postseason run in the last four years?

Cue Bobby Knight’s “crystal ball” press conference (YouTube it after you read the rest of this column).

As all you Facebookers out there are bombarded with requests of time-wasting games like Candy Crush and FarmVille, how about spending a few minutes playing Front Office with Uncle Aaron?

What would you do if you had the seat of general manager Walt Jocketty or manager Dusty Baker for a week?

Ever since I watched 12-year-old Billy Heywood take the reins of the Minnesota Twins in “Little Big League” in 1993, it’s always been a pipe dream of mine to run a professional baseball club.

The Reds don’t have Billy Heywood, but they do have another Billy.

Ah, that brings me to my first move before the trade deadline of July 31 ...

1. Call up Billy Hamilton. His numbers in Louisville don’t knock your socks off, but I prefer flip-flops anyway. Will the 22-year-old be a flop? Or will he flip a switch in much need of flipping? Let’s find out! Despite his .249 batting average in 335 at-bats in Triple-A, Hamilton has a .300 on-base percentage and has stolen 51 bases. The speedy center fielder, who the Reds were hoping to keep in the minors until at least September, might just need to get his feet wet a little early. This sometimes lifeless offense needs a spark plug.

OK, so if Hamilton is in center and hitting leadoff, where does that leave Shin-Soo Choo?

2. Put Choo in left field and bat him second. Until Opening Day left fielder Ryan Ludwick returns from his shoulder injury (on pace to occur in mid-August, according to CBSsports.com), experienced outfielder Choo can shift a few strides to his right.

Choo’s bat has been valuable and his glove pleasantly surprising. He and Joey Votto have led the league in both walks and on-base percentage for much of the season.

Baker needs to stop inking an automatic out into the No. 2 slot of the lineup card every day. Zack Cozart is the Reds’ long-term answer at shortstop, but he’s no 2-hitter right now. Until he figures out how to get on base more (.261 OBP) or make more productive contact, Cozart should stay in the seventh or eighth spot in the order.

Derrick Robinson, who batted second on Friday night, is probably not the everyday answer, either. I do like him on the team, though.

3. Buy a bullpen arm. I realize the bullpen has been extremely strong of late, but these facts remain: left-hander Sean Marshall and righty Jonathan Broxton are hurt, and while each could return fairly soon, pitchers who have already had an injury during a season seem to be susceptible to a follow-up absence; starter Johnny Cueto could be out for some time, which leaves little wiggle room — meaning if there is another rotation injury, Alfredo Simon or Sam LeCure would likely be lifted from the bullpen and inserted into a starting role.

And, even with recent success, I don’t quite trust Manny Parra yet.

The Reds should try to trade for veteran southpaw Javier Lopez (Giants). The 36-year-old wouldn’t require giving up much, and he’s posted a pristine 1.64 earned run average this season.

4. Get bench help. The bench currently consists of Jack Hannahan, Cesar Izturis, Corky Miller and whoever’s not in left field (Chris Heisey, Xavier Paul, Robinson). Where’s the veteran who will consistently put together a productive at-bat as a pinch-hitter? 

Is Lenny Harris still around? Just looked him up ... he’s only 48!

Maybe the Reds can give Johnny Damon or Scott Podsednik a call. Former batting title-holder Freddy Sanchez, former Red Ramon Hernandez and Ty Wigginton, recently released by the Cardinals, might also be worth looking at.

With all the recent catcher problems, Hernandez is probably the most logical option.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.