McCoy: Winker eager to help Reds in playoff chase

Left fielder was activated from injured list on Friday

Jesse Winker watched Thursday afternoon’s Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game on a TV in the visitor’s clubhouse in Memphis.

There was an itch, an itch that needed scratching. At 3 o’clock, it was time for the Louisville Bats to take batting practice and Winker came to a decision.

“You know what, man? Screw it,” he said to himself. “I’m going to go back to Cincinnati to play baseball.” He had only taken five at bats in two games on his rehab assignment for the Bats and his ailing back was not 100 percent.

But it was time. Nothing could be accomplished in Memphis. Cincinnati was the place to be, especially with the Los Angeles Dodgers in town and his Cincinnati Reds scratching and clawing for their playoff lives.

He scheduled a flight for 7 p.m., but he would have to change planes in Atlanta. So he talked Reds minor league hitting instructor C.J. Gillman into driving him.

“It’s a 6 1/2-hour drive and somehow, with good luck, we made it in six hours. I don’t want to say what happened, but we dodged some speed traps, I guess,” he said. Winker, in fact, got to Cincinnati quicker by car than he would have via air. “And that included a stop at Chick-fil-A for a peach milkshake,” he said.

He was at Great American Ball Park early Friday afternoon and his name was on the lineup card to face Walker Buehler and the Dodgers.

Winker appeared on Zoom for the media Friday afternoon, wearing a ball cap with ‘Love’ inscribed on it and he was toting a long, black Maduro cigar.

“I looked at all things, and there was not a lot of time (14 games) and I decide I don’t know how many more ABs at Memphis was realistic,” he said. “You only get to be part of a playoff chase so many times. You don’t know when the next time will be when you’ll only be one game back in the wild card. I felt like, ‘I’m going to play,’ and that’s it.”

Winker knows his challenge, after missing nearly a month, is monumental this weekend.

“Why not? I’m excited. They’re a great team with great pitchers … it’s a Cy Young candidate (Buehler) and then two Hall of Famers (Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw),” he said. “I like our lineup and I like the guys we have going against them.”

Of his five at bats, Winker said, “It’s five at bats. That’s it. I felt good enough to come back. I watched every (Reds) game and I don’t think feeling 100 percent (healthy) was on the table. I just wanted to get it good enough to come back and help.

“I love this team, I love this town and how many opportunities you get to be one game back in the wild card with a weekend series at home against the Dodgers in September,” he said.

“I mean, it’s September 17 and who in the game is 100 percent,” he said. “To get to play at home with our season on the line, our backs up against the wall, it’s exciting man. It’s fun, a lot of fun. I appreciate the moment.

“I don’t care where I’m at, I’m good enough to lace it up and there is no damn excuse,” he added. “I don’t care how many rehab games and at bats I got, I don’t care how many games I missed, I’m here and I believe I can help the team win.”

And the cigar, one big enough and dark enough to use as a bat?

“These are Rodriguez cigars,” he said. “He is from Florida and rolls them himself. He’s a big baseball fan. They’re a Series 84 Maduros. This cigar right here,” he said waving it in the air, “is the best cigar I ever had. I’m an avid cigar fan, my little thing. I picked it up from my father. And I’m going to enjoy this cigar.”

He hoped to light it up late Friday night after a victory over the Dodgers.

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