MIAMI – The Cincinnati Reds have been searching for a reliable third outfielder since Jesse Winker went on the 10-day injured list on Aug. 16.
Max Schrock started two games in left field against right-handed pitching. Aristides Aquino started Sunday against the Miami Marlins, but he entered the game with a .136 batting average in 59 at-bats this month. Shogo Akiyama is the best defender of the group, but he’s batting .176 in 68 at-bats since the All-Star break.
Winker, an All-Star starter, is still a couple of weeks away from returning to the active roster, though he’s beginning baseball activities.
“He started throwing,” Reds manager David Bell said. “(Sunday), he's off, just a day of more recovery, rest. Not swinging a bat yet, but mainly doing strengthening, body strengthening stuff and did add throwing in a couple of days ago.”
Winker has been sidelined with an intercostal strain. He tried to play through it earlier this month, but quickly re-aggravated the injury and he was forced to exit in the third inning of a game.
Tyler Naquin has filled Winker’s spot at the top of the lineup admirably, transforming into one of the hottest hitters in the league. If Naquin can continue swinging a hot bat when Winker returns, the Reds’ lineup looks even scarier.
Bell said Winker should begin swinging a bat at some point within the next week. Winker led the league in doubles (32) and total bases (235) at the time of his injury.
ROSTER EXPANDS SOON: There won’t be the usual September callups for young players because the roster will expand to 28 players on Sept. 1 instead of the previous rules where teams could call up their entire 40-man roster.
Bell said the Reds are still discussing how they want to utilize the two extra spots on their active roster.
“We have some guys coming back from injury,” Bell said. “It'll really be based on a need. The other thing too, at Triple-A with the season continuing, once we make that decision, we're not locked into that. That can change over the next few weeks.”
Shortstop Jose Barrero, who was optioned Saturday to make room for Asdrúbal Cabrera on the 26-man roster but remained with the team in Miami on the taxi squad, is a top candidate. He’s done pregame work in center field too, so he has some versatility off the bench.
“He didn't get a ton of opportunities to start here,” Bell said. “There's a good chance he'll be back. Of course, it's always disappointing for any player to leave the Major Leagues, but in Jose's case, there's just no doubt he'll be back. He remains a big part of our plans moving forward in the organization on this team. In the meantime, he'll go get at-bats, regular at-bats, until he's back.”
MOUSTAKAS SITS: Mike Moustakas was out of the lineup Sunday and Bell didn’t receive an update on his status before his pregame press conference.
“Hopefully, it’s day to day,” Bell said. “Hopefully, it’s not an IL situation, but really don’t know that for sure until we see him this morning.”
Moustakas exited in the second inning Saturday with right hip tightness, which he felt when he tried to reach for a ground ball on the first play of the game. He had three more balls hit in his direction during Miami’s five-run first inning.
LOTTA LEFTIES: The Reds faced Marlins lefty Jesús Luzardo in Sunday’s series finale, which begins a stretch where they will face five lefties in their next six games.
It’ll be a big test for the Reds’ lineup. The Reds have a .693 OPS (on-base plus slugging) against left-handed pitchers this season, which ranks 26th in the league. They are the league’s best offense against righties with a .785 OPS.
Eugenio Suárez started at third base Sunday ahead of Cabrera, a switch-hitter who has hit lefties well this year. Suárez traditionally crushes left-handed pitching, but he’s struggled against them this year.
“All along, I planned to play Geno today, which might have been part of the reason why he wasn’t the guy to go in for Moose (Saturday),” Bell said. “We have to keep them all going. We’re at a point in the year where they’ve all had different sort of seasons to this point, but really what happens from here to the end is all that matters at this point.”
INJURY UPDATE: Reds reliever Brad Brach, on the 10-day injured list, threw a side session Saturday at loanDepot park and he expects to begin a rehab assignment at Triple-A Louisville this week.
Brach has been sidelined since Aug. 8 with a right shoulder impingement.