The Reds just can't seem to put their best players on the field at the same time. On Wednesday, Cincinnati brought outfielder Jay Bruce off the disabled list after a two-week stay, only to replace him there with Joey Votto, who has been sidelined since May 16 with a quad strain.
Bruce has been out since the first week of May after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and returns with a .216/.352/.363 line. The Reds desperately need him to provide offense. Since Bruce's last game on May 4, Cincinnati has hit a mere .213/.279/.333 as a team, averaging just under three runs per game and going 5-8. Things have been particularly bad for Bruce's rightfield replacements. Chris Heisey hasn't helped at all with a .182/.270/.333 line in 33 plate appearances since replacing Bruce in the starting lineup. Skip Schumaker, who has also played some in right, has been slightly better, slashing .262/.311/.405 since May 4, but that's still a far cry from what a healthy Bruce can produce.
What's more, Bruce's injury has had a ripple effect on the lineup. Votto has moved down from from the second spot in the order to cleanup to replace Bruce. That's forced manager Bryan Price to turn to the likes of Schumaker, Heisey, Brayan Pena (.162/.158/.270 since May 4) and out-machine Zack Cozart (.255 OBP) at No. 2. Though Billy Hamilton has rebounded in May after a wretched start to the season (.293/.333/.415 this month) and Brandon Phillips has rediscovered his old stroke in the last few weeks, not having Votto atop the lineup or Bruce in the middle has caused the offense to stall.
Though Bruce's return will help, the loss of Votto, however brief, will hurt Cincinnati's offense a good deal. In the five games that Votto (.257/.410/.449 in 173 PA) has missed over the past few days, the Reds have totaled 15 runs and hit just .209/.273/.299. In that time, first base has been spilt between Pena, Todd Frazier and Neftali Soto, with only Frazier producing much of anything. It's unlikely, though, that Price can stick with Frazier as his first baseman, given that moving Frazier off his regular spot at third base leaves 34-year-old career utilityman Ramon Santiago as the only other option to man the hot corner. Thus, expect to see a lot of Soto and Pena over the next week-plus, something that won't help Cincinnati's run-scoring issues one bit. A 32-year-old backup catcher, Pena has fallen off dramatically since posting an .817 OPS in March and April; he's now down to .681 and falling fast. Soto, meanwhile, has all of 42 career plate appearances in the majors, and has just three hits in 28 at-bats this year, with seven strikeouts, no walks and no homers. In short, any gain the Reds will see from replacing Heisey and Schumaker with Bruce will likely be lost by replacing Votto with Pena and Soto. The return of catcher Devin Mesoraco from the disabled list gives Cincinnati a boost, but he and Bruce, along with others, will have to put up some big-time numbers if the Reds want to stay in the NL Central race through Votto's convalescence.