Ryan Ludwick makes no bones about it; for about an 18-month stretch, he was a sub-par Major League hitter.
But let’s keep things in perspective, the now 10-year veteran insists, saying recent media hype about his 2012 comeback year has been vastly overplayed. Ludwick’s career, the slugger said while basking in the sunshine at the Reds Player Development Center, has shown that a small window of unproductive play was simply an aberration.
“The way I look at it, I had a year and half where I stunk. I tell people that. I was terrible,” Ludwick said. “But I knew if I got in the right fit, a place where I want to be, that I’d be right back to where I was capable of playing. And I think I proved that last year.”
He found that fit in the heart of the Cincinnati lineup, hitting 26 homers and adding 80 RBIs last season to wrestle the starting left fielder’s job from Chris Heisey. This after hitting just .237 with a combined 13 homers the season prior while playing with San Diego and Pittsburgh.
Ludwick admitted that deep right-center field fence at San Diego’s Petco Park didn’t help his confidence and he needed someone to offer a kick start. When Reds’ General Manager Walt Jocketty brought him in for depth, that was exactly the push he needed. But he still feels the poor stretch of play has been over-analyzed.
“The media gets this all misconstrued. This isn’t a couple of down years. Every year I had in St. Louis was a good year,” Ludwick said. “Look, 2011 was a down year, but in 2010, if you guys would dig deep and look at the numbers, I was among the league leaders in RBIs, home runs and slugging percentage before I got traded to San Diego.”
One of manager Dusty Baker’s favorite mantras is that the modern media microscope doesn’t allow players to work through rough patches in their careers. Baker said he sympathized with Ludwick, noting that he had a difficult stretch of his own.
“I had three in a row when I was trying to figure it out,” Baker said. “I didn’t know who to be.”
Baker said he got a letter from Joe Black, the first African-American pitcher to win a World Series game, and took the advice to heart.
“He told me to remember that I was a hitter and not a slugger. That straightened me out big time, that letter that I got from Joe Black,” Baker said. “Power was new to me, and I started to try to hit ‘em, and I didn’t hit any more than when I wasn’t trying to hit ‘em, and my batting average went down 30 points. It happens.”
Ludwick said some of his success came from working with Cincinnati hitting coach Brook Jacoby, and added how thankful he was that Jocketty rewarded him with a two-year deal worth $15 million.
“Look at this team on paper. We’ve got everything. When you look at the core of this ballclub, it’s a team that won 97 games last year and it’s a team that on paper, and for outsiders looking in, it’s a team that has a chance to win a World Series,” Ludwick said. “For a guy who’s now 34 years old and doesn’t have a ring on my finger, I think that’s the most important thing in your career. It’s that last step.”
Injury, roster updates: The Reds are mostly healthy, although Baker did note that reliever Manny Parra has been suffering from a sore neck. Pitcher Mat Latos had some ankle stiffness, although most seemed to think he’d be just fine, and Bronson Arroyo is still battling flu symptoms and has sporadically popped in and out of the training facility throughout the weekend. Baker said Arroyo came in just for medical clearance.
“He’s gotta come in and see the doctors, then they pronounce you half-dead and then they send you home,” Baker said. “It’s not like a regular job where you just call in and say, ‘I can’t make it today.’ You’ve got to come in and see the doctor.”
As of Sunday morning, all those expected to attend were in Goodyear except outfielder Yorman Rodriguez and infielder Henry Rodriguez. Both had experienced hiccups with their visas, but both were expected to be ready for today’s session.
Matinee anyone?: When he’s not stressing over potential lineups, Baker might have a chance to pop a view movies in during his down time in Arizona. After some commercial and radio work a few decades back, Baker has maintained his membership in the Screen Actors Guild, and he still receives movies as one of the perks. He said Sunday he’s yet to crack open “Argo,” the Ben Affleck thriller about the Iran hostage crisis, and he’s looking forward to “Lincoln,” which he received about a month ago.