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02/15/12 4:05 PM EST
Heisey, Ludwick may platoon in left field
Baker unlikely to announce decision in Spring Training
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Former Reds slugger Adam Dunn was often loved and loathed simultaneously, and he took criticism that was often as unfair as it was fair. That was partially because Dunn struck out a lot and wasn't fleet of foot in left field when he was with the Reds from 2001-08. But this fact was not disputed: Dunn could be counted on to collect 40 home runs, 100 RBIs, 100 runs and 100 walks per season. No one playing left field for the Reds, individually or collectively, has come close since. From 2004-07, Dunn slugged at least 40 homers with 100 walks each season and notched 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored in three of the four years. His on-base percentage over his eight seasons with the Reds was .380. He played 150 or more games in five different seasons and played 160 games three times. Of course, he also led the league in strikeouts in each season from 2004-06, including a then-club record total of 195 in 2004. It's been a revolving door in left field of late, mostly consisting of platoon situations. That could be the case again in 2012, as the Reds have Chris Heisey and Ryan Ludwick -- who signed a $2.5 million, one-year contract in the offseason with a mutual option for 2013 -- slated to play there. It will be an unconventional setup, as both hitters are right-handed and perform better against right-handed pitching than they do left-handers. Since Dunn was traded to the D-backs in August of 2008, the Reds' vast array of left fielders have included Laynce Nix, Jonny Gomes, Chris Dickerson, Wladimir Balentien, Jolbert Cabrera, Darnell McDonald, Willie Bloomquist, Drew Sutton, Heisey, Fred Lewis, Jeremy Hermida, Dave Sappelt, Yonder Alonso and Todd Frazier. The tandems in left field have worked better in some years than in others. In 2009, the first full year sans Dunn, Reds left fielders -- primarily Nix and Gomes -- combined to bat .240/.302/.418 with 24 homers, 71 RBIs and 81 runs scored. Nix and Gomes were a better duo in 2010, posting a .275/.335/.441 line with 21 homers, 95 RBIs and 95 runs scored. Last season, a wide cast of characters that included Heisey batted .227/.310/.371 with 21 homers, 71 RBIs and 79 runs scored. Heisey, 27, has shown signs of being the complete player that the Reds are seeking, as he batted .254 with a .309 OBP. And in only 279 at-bats, the left fielder drilled 18 homers and drove in 50 runs. He struck out 78 times, a high rate considering he was a part-time player, though he is also strong defensively and would be an asset with his glove. Things get tricky when breaking down Heisey's splits. In two big league seasons, he is a .288 hitter vs. right-handed pitchers, but only a .180 hitter against lefties. He's also become primarily a pull hitter despite hitting to all fields in the Minors. Heisey has also shown that he has stronger numbers coming off of the bench (.321 average) as opposed to when he starts (.234) Ludwick, 33, batted only .237 with 13 home runs and 75 RBIs last season in a combined 139 games with the Padres and Pirates. But he will be free of the hitters' graveyard that was San Diego's Petco Park, where he struggled since 2010. As recently as 2008, Ludwick collected 37 homers and 113 RBIs for the Cardinals. In his platoon splits during 2011, Ludwick, batted .264 vs. lefties and .228 against righties. Over his career, however, he's been better vs. right-handers (.272) than southpaws (.237). He's also hit better off of the bench (.295) compared to when he starts (.259). It's unlikely that manager Dusty Baker will name either Heisey or Ludwick the outright starter during Spring Training, as the skipper likes to play the matchups and often proclaims that everyone on his roster gets to play. With a Heisey-Ludwick duo, the two players can push each other as each tries to stay in the lineup and get the most playing time. And whoever doesn't start will provide Baker with a nice option off the bench when he needs some pop.