CINCINNATI — Jim Riggleman smiled broadly when it was mentioned that it was his stroke of genius to put Scott Schebler at the top of the Cincinnati Reds batting order.
“Somebody much smarter than me, if I can phrase it right, once said, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’” said Riggleman.
It was a very wise man, a philosopher named Plato. But as wise as Plato was, he never managed a baseball team and never had to try to find a leadoff hitter.
That’s what Riggleman did. He has been searching for a usable leadoff man since he took over the Reds as interim manager 18 games into the season. He has tried Billy Hamilton, he has tried Jose Peraza, he has tried Jesse Winker and now he is trying Scott Schebler.
And for now it is so far so great.
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Schebler entered Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals riding a tidal wave of success — an eight-game hitting streak with six multi-hit games and a .500 batting average (17 for 34).
Riggleman said there was some malice aforethought about Schebler batting leadoff.
“Earlier in the year when we sent him to the minors on rehab we had him batting leadoff to get accustomed to it in case we needed him to do it,” said Riggleman. “That was so it wouldn't be a total shock to him.
“We needed somebody to step into that spot,” he added. “We wanted to see if we could create some offense from there. It is working so we’ll just keep trying it for a while.”
Everybody knows the prototype leadoff hitter is Billy Hamilton, mainly because of his speed. But his .191 batting average and .283 on-base percentage has him locked into the No 9 hole, behind the pitcher, when he plays.
Going back to his Plato quote, Riggleman said, “It is a matter of need. In a perfect world, Billy Hamilton is our leadoff hitter. That’s the design and Billy has struggled so we have toyed around with other people. Jesse Winker does a good job there, but we’re not winning so we have to try some other things.
“So we’ve moved Schebler up there and dropped Winker into an RBI spot,” said Riggleman. “We’re just continuing to try to manufacture some offense.”
JESSE WINKER, TOO, is on a bit of an offensive excursion, which included his 13th-inning walk-off home run Thursday against the Colorado Rockies. So far during the first four games of the homestand Winker is hitting .533 (8 for 15) with a double, a home run and five RBI.
Riggleman piled a mountain of praise on Winker’s ability.
“One of my favorite players I ever managed was Mark Grace,” he said, referring to a former Chicago Cubs All-Star first baseman. “Winker is a Mark Grace-type guy. He really knows the strike zone and is a potential .300 hitter, like Mark, and can hit 12 to 15 home runs.”
Winker has only two homers so far this season, including the dramatic walk-off against the Rockies, but Riggleman said, “Most young guys the last thing that comes is power. We did see him come up last year and see him hit six or seven home runs in a short time (seven in 47 games). He has shown glimpses of power here.
“Ever since I’ve heard about Jesse in the minor leagues and saw him last year, he has always been a good hitter,” said Riggleman. “What we’re seeing now is a continuation of what he has always been, a real professional hitter. He doesn’t swing at bad pitches and takes his walks. What we’re seeing now is the norm.”
ANTHONY DESCLAFANI makes his second start of the season Sunday against the Cardinals after a grab bag first game. On Tuesday against Colorado he gave up four runs in the first two innings, then retired 11 of the last 12.
Riggleman, though, loved the way Desclafani handled his post-game media scrum.
“What I really liked was his comments after the game,” said Riggleman. “He said that four runs down after two innings was not acceptable. That was instead of some of that stuff you hear like, ‘I thought I threw the ball good and I only made one mistake.’ Really? Then why are we down 5-0? So he took accountability. He is down four runs and said, ‘You know what? That isn’t good enough’ I like that.”
WITH THEIR 12-GAME losing streak to the Cardinals reaching ugly proportions it would seem the Reds are jinxed, snakebit and playing under permanent black clouds.
For example, they were down 6-4 in the ninth inning Friday and scored two runs with two outs to tie it, 6-6. Then they lost it in the 10th inning.
“I know, it’s something,” said Riggleman. “Our record against them is not good. We’ve had some great ball games against them and keep coming up short. There are no moral victories, but I feel like our club is close to being respectable.
“Our record says we’re not a respectable club (22-42) but with what I see in the dugout, with the effort they put out, the way we’ve been able to score runs in the last month makes me think I know we’re ready to make a jump in the standings.”
The Reds have finished last in the National League Central three straight years and are firmly attached to last place this year, 16 1/2 games out of first place and 9 1/2 games out of next-to-last place.
“We’re not ready to pick up 16 games on somebody, but we certainly can get out of this last-place rut we’ve been in for three years,” he added.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Riggleman was reminded that Michael Wacha, Saturday’s starter for the Cardinals, holds a cold spell over the Reds, For his career Wacha is 10-1 against the Reds with a 2.88 earned run average in 16 career starts.
When that was pointed out, Riggleman said, “Thank you for that.” Then he made a startling comparison by saying, “He looks like a young Adam Wainwright with his mid-90s fastball, great breaking stuff, good off-speed stuff. He’s a pro and we have our hands full when we face him. And that’s the way it is supposed to be. You are in the big leagues and it is supposed to be a challenge every day.”