03/01/12 4:30 PM EST
Ludwick looking for a fresh start in Cincinnati
Outfielder believes his swing is a perfect fit for new home park
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
The newest Reds outfielder knew plain as day what made him successful in the past, and what caused his more recent struggles.
"For me, it's a mental thing," Ludwick said. "You always hear that [baseball] and golf are the biggest mental sports in all of sports. It's all how you deal with it. Some people, it doesn't matter where you hit. I just know from experience at Petco Park, it wasn't just me. As soon as you get there, even Adrian Gonzalez said, 'Don't let this ballpark get into your head.' That's what you always hear there."
In 160 games spread over parts of the 2010-11 seasons with the Padres, Ludwick batted just .228 with 17 homers and 90 RBIs. It didn't get much better after a July 31 trade to the Pirates, where he batted .232 in 38 games.
"That's done with. I'm trying to move on," Ludwick said. "It was a part of my career I'd like to forget about and start new."
The 33-year-old Ludwick, who was signed by the Reds on Jan. 27 to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with a club option for 2013, is a lifetime .261 hitter. In 2008 with the Cardinals, he had a career year when he batted .299 with 37 homers and 113 RBIs. In 2009, he had 22 homers and 97 RBIs.
In player transactions, the phrase "he needed a change of scenery" is often used as a polite way of saying someone's personality didn't fit with a clubhouse. The outgoing Ludwick was not believed to have any such issue during his last two stops. But the change of scenery is expected to help him once he stands in the batter's box.
As much as Petco Park is considered a pitcher-friendly yard, Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park is viewed as a friend to most hitters. Besides growing up loving the Reds and wanting to play for a contender, the friendlier dimensions at his new home are what appealed greatly to a power hitter like Ludwick.
"I felt like it was [the] total other end of the spectrum from the ballparks I played in last year," Ludwick said. "I feel like this is a great fit for my stroke. I've had a little bit of success hitting at that ballpark."
In 30 career games at GABP, Ludwick has a .921 OPS and a .276 average, with nine homers and 21 RBIs. His lifetime OPS is .787. In San Diego, it dipped to .659.
"It happens," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I was surprised St. Louis let him go in the first place [in 2010]. Sometimes things happen. Everybody wants to know reasons why sometimes. Sometimes it's mental, sometimes it's physical. Sometimes it's the amount of opportunities you get, or the lack thereof."
The mental issues of not hitting well begat a mechanical one with Ludwick's approach. Following the trade July 31, 2010, trade from St. Louis to San Diego, his footwork went out of whack. He could see it in video -- his front side and foot opened up early, as he was always trying to pull the ball.
Knowing it was one thing, correcting it was another.
"A non-baseball person could see the video and what I was doing wrong," Ludwick said. "I couldn't fix it. I got that dead pull mindset driven into my head because I knew my best bolt would not go out to right-center field in San Diego. I turned into a dead-pull hitter."
Baker is expected to employ a tandem-type of system in left field with Ludwick and Chris Heisey.
"He's looking real good," Baker said of Ludwick. "He came to camp in great shape. He works hard. He's fitting in with the guys. He has action on this team."
Both players are right-handed hitters, but Heisey prefers the ball up and in, while Baker believes Ludwick has been better with pitches up and away. Both hitters have had a better track record against right-handed pitching than left-handers.
Ludwick is less concerned about playing time and more concerned with winning and being productive.
"I've been in a position in 2008 where I was supposed to platoon with Chris Duncan. It turned out to be a pretty good year," Ludwick said. "I was in a position in 2007 where I came up and was the fifth outfielder. It was just fine. I played very well.
"I'm still not part of the 25-man roster. I'm not worried about a platoon in left field when I haven't made the team, yet. I have to make the team. Coming off a year and a half where I played awful, I still have to make the team. Obviously, if I play bad, I'm not going to play. If I play well, I will probably play."