Through the pain and disappointment, Ryan Ludwick became the mouthpiece of his team.
“It’s not the best Opening Day I’ve had,” the veteran left fielder said with a wince as he shifted in his chair following his Cincinnati Reds’ 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Great American Ball Park Monday.
His right arm was in a sling and the start of his season is now in doubt after he dislocated his shoulder sliding into third base in the third inning. He’s scheduled for an MRI today.
“Hopefully, there’ll be good news tomorrow,” he said quietly.
The Reds as a whole are hoping the same.
Opening Day is a festive holiday in Cincinnati — it’s been that way here for more than a century — but Monday the Angels reminded the Reds nation that it was April Fools Day for everybody else and they were getting the last laugh in this a numbing 4-hour, 45-minute marathon. They scored two runs in the top of the 13th off reliever J.J. Hoover, the Reds’ fifth pitcher of the day.
By then only a few thousand of what had been a record regular-season crowd of 43,168 were left in the ball park. The temperature had dropped to 42 degrees and everyone was cold, especially the players.
“It’s not easy playing in that kind of weather especially just coming back from Arizona where it was 80 degrees every day,” said Chris Heisey, who had taken over in left for Ludwick. “You get loose inside (the clubhouse) between innings and then go out on the field and in a couple of minutes you’d already be chilled.”
The only thing colder than the Reds players were their bats. The same problem they had in spring training followed them back to Cincinnati. They only got three hits against the Angels.
“It’s the thing that plagued us early last year and especially in the spring,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said afterward. “We’d have runners on third with less than two outs and we don’t get anything out of the situation or (we) end up striking out. We’ve got to get better at putting the ball in play.”
If you’re looking for silver linings on this disappointing night, there were a couple.
Starting pitcher Johnny Cueto was masterful, pitching seven innings and striking out nine while giving up just three hits and one earned run. That lone score came when he got the ball up against Chris Iannetta in the third inning and the Angels catcher deposited it in the left centerfield seats for a 390-foot home run.
Angels starter Jered Weaver, a 20-game winner last season, was just as superb, giving up just two hits and a run in six innings.
The only player he couldn’t contain was new Reds centerfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who got two of the Reds’ three hits and scored the lone Cincinnati run.
The Reds orchestrated a three-team, multi-player trade in the offseason mainly to finally find a lead-off hitter. They believed they got that in Choo, who came from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Drew Stubbs, who had struggled mightily at the top of the Reds batting order last season.
A year ago, the Reds had one glaring hole in their otherwise successful offensive season. Cincinnati lead-off hitters had a combined .254 on base percentage. That wasn’t just the worst mark in Major League Baseball last season, it was the lowest percentage of any team in 31 years.
While seven different players tried their hand at the leadoff spot, Stubbs spent the most time there and floundered. He hit .213 last season and got on base just over 27 percent of the time. The year before he led the Major Leagues in strikeouts with 205.
Choo, on the other hand, has a .381 career OBP. It’s hoped he’ll hold down the position this season — he’s under a one-year $7.4 million contract — until wonderkid Billy Hamilton, he of 155 minor league steals last season, makes his way to the big team.
Monday, Choo got on base three times with a double, a single and was hit by a Weaver pitch. He scored on a wild pitch in the third.
“Choo was outstanding today,” Baker said. “We only got three hits and he got two of them. That’s why we brought him here. He played a very good game.”
Baker said the same about Cueto, but those were the only two players who got salutes afterward.
That wasn’t enough.
Like Ludwick said: “Hopefully, there’ll be good news tomorrow.”