Ryan Ludwick gets his rehab assignment underway this Wednesday in Dayton, which should be good news for a Reds team that's seen a few too many games on the order of Sunday's teeth-pulling against Jeff Locke and the Pirates. But it's not clear what Ludwick's return to the team will mean for the offense.
Along with Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey, Ludwick might be the biggest unknown quantity over the remainder of the season. The Reds will hope to get an uptick from Bruce and Phillips, who have both been streaky, but most everyone is around career norms.
To my mind, those three represent the biggest potential to push the team's hitting back to league average or above as summer burns on.
It's not known much time Ludwick will need to get back to starting shape - which is probably still somwhere south of 100%. Even before he was injured, his ability to repeat his 2012 numbers was very much in question. Some recent examples of outfielders returning from torn labrums give mixed results. At age 34, Luke Scott produced about the same in 2012 as he did in 2011 (which ended with a labrum tear). Adam LaRoche returned with a career year in 2012, after missing most of 2011 with a torn labrum. Matt Kemp hasn't been himself since getting labrum surgery in October of last year.
Ludwick's injury is probably less severe than the latter two, but he'll also have at least a month less recovery time than all of the above. He has the advantage of not injuring the shoulder on his throwing side, though he it's probably more relevant that he injured one of his bat-holding arms. All of this is to say that Ludwick is capable of being healthy and good next month. But it seems more reasonable to expect that he'll around his career averages - not his 2012 heights.
While Ludwick is mending, Chris Heisey is coming up on 50 PAs since he returned from the DL on June 25. During that time, he's ecto-plasmed a .324/.413/.703 slash line. Heisey is probably never going to be an OBP machine, but the power numbers are encouraging. He's always had the ability to launch it out of GABP and lately he's getting some gap power in away ball parks.
Heisey's BABIP over the last 28 days is a perfectly unsuspicious .300 and his season BABIP (.241) suggests he might have been very unlucky in the early-going of the season. Over a still relatively small sample of 2013 PAs, he's become - or, more likely, reverted - to being a pull-happy power-hitter with steep platoon splits (.589 vs RHP, .849 vs LHP).
Todd Frazier, not an afterthought here, should get some credit for getting on base at a decent clip. While Bruce and Phillips have both slunk below a .320 OBP, Todd trails only Choo and Votto with his .332. In a post-'roid utopia, that helps give him wRC+ of 102 - which means he's (arguably) an above league-average hitter. With the improvement in his defense, it makes him one of the more valuable 3Bs in the NL. Put another way: he's both hitting and fielding a little better than Chase Headley.
Frazier's power, though, has gone missing. It's not because he's gotten more aggressive - Todd is walking more, swinging less and striking out at the same rate, all compared to last season. But he is hitting a lot more ground balls. So while Frazier hasn't changed his approach - he's even gotten a little choosier - pitchers probably aren't giving him the stuff he was driving (hands-free, sometimes) last year.
Making the most of it
I don't really know if Todd Frazier is going to make the sophomore adjustment-to-the-adjustment. And I don't really know if Ludwick will even come back before late August. But I have a hunch that Chris Heisey can slap around some left-handed pitchers like he did in the minors, especially against an easier schedule. So that's a good place to start.
Until Ludwick returns, Heisey will have the chance to ride his hot streak and get most of the LF starts. Since Ludwick will be fresh off an injury and has never had platoon splits (he's even hit righties slightly better over his career), he could be eased into the mix by starting only against righties. That would give the Reds a potent right-bat off the bench (Heisey) and either Derrick Robinson or Xavier Paul. The Reds could also fill that last spot with another bat at the deadline.
Frazier, for his part, might have to figure a few things out. But he should, at the very least, get his SLG back over .400 against an easier schedule. Heisey coming back to Earth again, Frazier seeing a slight improvement and Ludwick's return could all just mean "one step forward, one step back." But at least you can choreograph it.