By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — As was suspected and feared, Jesse Winker’s right shoulder injury was deadly serious — enough that the Cincinnati Reds rookie outfielder is undergoing season-ending surgery.
Amazingly, the injury dates back to 2014 when Winker played Class A baseball in Bakersfield, Calif.
“That’s three or four years ago and it would be an aggravation and sometime pop out on him,” said manager Jim Riggleman. “He could play through it, but the information we received is that each time that happened it is doing a little damage.”
The latest incident was Monday against the Cardinals when he as on first base and Tucker Barnhart scorched a line drive that Winker had to avoid and he fell to the ground.
“He knew right away that, ‘Oh, boy, this is worse than it has been,’” said Riggleman. “The damage has to be taken care of. If your front shoulder is bothering you, that is really tough for a hitter. Winker told me there were times this affect his swing. He altered his path because of the pain. That’s a tough way to play at the major league level, but he did a heck of a job and we didn’t realize he was going through as much as he was.”
The official terminology is subluxation and when asked if he knew what that means, Winker said, “No, all I know is that it hurts.” The dictionary says it is a misalignment of the vertebrae.
“When I talked to you a couple of days ago I was hoping that surgery wasn’t the end result,” said Winker. “But I’ve been dealing with this the last two or three years and it is time to go fix it. It has been happening and we’ve done everything we can to keep it at bay. It has been off and on all year with the shoulder pain and this subluxation thing. Everybody agrees with this step and it is time to go do it.”
Winker said he was told that February 1 is a realistic time-table for him to resume baseball activity, just before spring training, “And that’s the mark on my calendar.”
Winker said falling Monday on Barnhart’s line drive, “Probably took the cake. Uh, that’s not a positive term. That ended it. That was the last straw. It has happened a couple of times this year but after this one, well, time to fix it.”
Winker was having an outstanding year, especially after Riggleman dropped him from leadoff to fifth in the batting order behind clean-up hitter Eugenio Suarez. And he was gaining Rookie of the Year consideration.
“You hit the nail on the head with that one, it’s terrible,” said Winker when asked about his excellent season and Rookie of the Year talk. “Yeah.”
Riggleman realizes that Winker is a substantial loss, particularly batting behind Suarez.
As Riggleman put it, “Sitting behind Suarez in the batting order really fit well because as good and as dangerous as Suarez is, if you want to put Suarez on, Winker is sitting there against a right hander and is going to put the ball in play. We have to find somebody to step up and hit behind Suarez to make teams keep pitching to him.Winker’s defensive play was progressing and his offensive play was being refined,” said Riggleman.
TO TAKE WINKER’S spot on the roster, the Reds recalled outfielder Mason Williams from Class AAA Louisville. He played briefly in 2015, 2016 and 2017 with the New York Yankees, just 25 total games. He was a free agent signee last November. And, no, this Mason Williams never heard of the Mason Williams who recorded a song in 1968 called Classical Gas.
During spring training this year he was smacked in the head in the dugout by a foul ball line drive hit by teammate Phillip Ervin. It required four stitches, but he was in the lineup the next day. Asked about it, he smiled broadly and said, “Let’s not bring that up. Let’s not talk about that. It was a bad day.”
But Wednesday was a good day when he was told he was headed for Cincinnati. “Within five minutes I was packed and headed for Cincinnati up I-71.” So did he speed? “No, but I thought about it. I also thought about hitting a pot hole and wrecking and not making it.”
Williams had an excellent spring before being optioned to Louisville in the middle of March and was hitting .280 with six homers, five stolen bases and 30 RBI. After the Triple-A All-Star game he hit in 12 of 13 games for the Bats (.362/.474.,532).
“I’ve been in the big leagues before, but it has been a long time since I got a call like this one, so I feel fortunate,” he said. “I had a good spring training and carried it into the season. For me it has always been staying on the field and being healthy. That was a big part of it.”
Williams was playing center field for Louisville and said, “I haven’t played the corner positions much, but I’ve played all three outfield spots my whole career.”
Riggleman, like most managers, is not swayed much by what happens in spring training because of the limited sample size and said, “I don’t put a whole lot of stock into spring training, but the reports from Louisvile are what counts and he has done well. He has played good center field, he has been productive and competitive at bats against both left handed and right handed pitchers. He is a good athlete, had some big league time with the Yankees so we’re confident he’ll come up here and do a good job.”
WHILE WILLIAMS HASTILY vacated Louisville, Reds outfielder Scott Schebler is still there on a rehab assignment. His sore shoulder still bothers him when he throws, but he can hit and is DHing for the Bats.
“It is on Scott Schebler and when he says he is ready to go, he’ll be here,” said Riggleman. “If he says it is still bothering him, his throwing or swinging not allowing him to be here, then we won’t be here. As soon as he says he’s ready, he will be back.”