It bothered me when the Reds let Cruz go this spring -- not only because he was a classy player, but also a consistently productive pinch-hitter.
Now, two months later, I'm relieved to report. We haven't suffered an appreciable drop-off in the caliber of of our pinch-hitting. To date, we have 18 hits in 54 PH at bats, for a batting average of .333. Our pinch-hitters have scored 11 runs, collected 8 RBI and drawn 10 walks. So, the OBP of our pinch-hitters is a robust .438.
That said, the nature of the beast has changed. We no longer have a designated pinch-hitter like Cruz. We have spread out the duties and let 14 players pinch-hit, everyone but Dunn, Larue and Kearns.
What's more, it's the kids who have really come through for us, not so much the vets -- Aurilia, Valentin, McCracken and Womack -- given a chance to fill Cruz's shoes. Those vets are a combined 6 for 31 in pinch-hitting duties (representing a comparatively weak batting average of .193) with 4 runs and 4 RBI to show for their efforts.
Who picked up the slack? Denorfia (3 for 4, with 2 runs), Olmedo (2 for 6, with 1 RBI and 1 run), D. Ross (2 for 2, with 2 RBI and 2 runs), Phillips (2 for 3 with a run), Encarnacion (1 for 1 with an RBI), and Lopez (1 for 1 with a run and an RBI).
This is such a small sample size, I'm reluctant to draw any grandiose conclusions from it. But I do think the trends are encouraging. It's quite obvious. Our minor league system might not be flush from top to bottom, but we do have some promising, young talent in the fold, truly eager to prove themselves.
If push comes to shove, I wouldn't hesitate to give these kids a fair tryout or to adopt a hardnosed, bueno-bye approach (a la Womack) with underperforming vets.