Pirates-Reds Preview

The Cincinnati Reds were in an offensive rut late last week, but that seemed to be nothing more than a minor hindrance for a team that was at least healthy after three months of dealing with some fairly major injuries.

Suddenly, they have two more.

With Brandon Phillips joining Joey Votto on the disabled list, the Reds look to stay positive Friday night as they open a key series with the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates.

Cincinnati was shut out for the third time in five games Saturday, the last time Votto played before going on the DL with a nagging thigh injury that may limit him for the rest of the season.

The Reds (49-43) have rebounded offensively with their first baseman gone, totaling 31 runs while winning five of six, but a 6-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs wasn't Thursday's most significant news. Cincinnati found out Phillips would need surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left thumb after diving for a ground ball Wednesday night, forcing its second baseman to miss at least six weeks - and, according to some reports, more like eight to 12.

"It's a big blow," manager Bryan Price told MLB's official website. "He's a great two-way player, and he's been really consistent for us offensively. He's sat in the middle of the order, mostly No. 3 and 4 most of the year. And he's been spectacular defensively. So definitely a blow, but we'll weather it."

The Reds have had to weather quite a few significant injuries in the first half. Votto's DL stint is his second since mid-May, Jay Bruce missed time with a torn meniscus and Devin Mesoraco was out three weeks with a strained hamstring.

Ramon Santiago will see the bulk of the time at second, with Skip Schumaker also getting some looks.

Cincinnati's regulars have been fully healthy when they've faced Pittsburgh (48-44) so far this season, and they've fared quite well. The Reds have totaled 54 runs and won seven of 10, with Todd Frazier (.350, three homers), Billy Hamilton (.361, eight stolen bases) and Mesoraco (.385, two homers) leading the way.

The Pirates head to Great American Ball Park feeling much better about themselves than they did a day earlier. Pittsburgh lost its first three games in St. Louis - the first two on walk-off homers - before rolling to a 9-1 win Thursday.

The Pirates sit in fourth place in the tightly packed NL Central but are a game behind Cincinnati and 3 1/2 back of first-place Milwaukee.

"You're in position for anything that can happen," manager Clint Hurdle said earlier Thursday. "It's going to be exciting. It's going to be fun."

They should feel confident in the opener considering how well Jeff Locke (2-1, 3.08 ERA) has pitched of late. The Pirates have won Locke's last five starts and he's gone at least eight innings in three of those.

He's done it in both July outings after holding Philadelphia to one earned run in Sunday's 6-2 win. Locke has a 2.23 ERA in six outings since being called up June 8.

"Jeff's pace and rhythm has been as consistent as anything he's done," Hurdle said.

The left-hander is 2-1 with a 3.03 ERA in six starts against Cincinnati, and limited the Reds to two runs over six innings in a 4-3, 12-inning win June 19.

He'll be opposed by Mat Latos (2-1, 2.41), who has been just as effective as Locke since making his season debut in mid-June. The right-hander pitched eight innings for the first time since Sept. 2 on Sunday, beating Milwaukee as he gave up two runs in a 4-2 win.

Latos is 5-1 with a 2.96 ERA in 11 starts against Pittsburgh.

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