CIN@TEX: Cueto leaves game after apparent injury

CINCINNATI -- The Reds entered Monday with the second-best rotation ERA in the Majors at 3.29, trailing only the Dodgers (3.16). Asked if his surging club had the advantage in the National League Central race over the Cardinals and Pirates because of its rotation, Reds manager Dusty Baker disagreed.

"Not without Johnny Cueto, I don't," Baker replied. "They're all good staffs. Aren't the Pirates the No. 1 staff around? And they got more depth than we have because you see the number of players they've called up. The Cardinals, how many guys have they called up? And how many have the Pirates called up?"

Cueto has been out since June because of a strained right lat muscle. Pittsburgh lost lefty Wandy Rodriguez to a forearm strain and St. Louis has been without Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia. The rotations of St. Louis and Pittsburgh were ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in the league.

"That's only part of the equation," Baker said. "Starting pitching's not necessarily going to take you there, but it's going to get you pretty close."

Reds focused more on division title, not Wild Card

Cincinnati making bid to overtake Pirates and Cards

CINCINNATI -- With three teams bunched together and in line for three playoff spots, the battle for the National League Central should be the race that sizzles the rest of the way in baseball.

By winning six of eight and 11 of 16 entering Monday, the third-place Reds have shown that they aren't content to settle for one of the NL Wild Card berths. They came in 2 1/2 games behind the division-leading Pirates, and 1 1/2 games behind the second-place Cardinals. As recently as Aug. 8, Cincinnati was staring at a season-high seven-game deficit and seemed to be spinning its wheels perpetually.

"It's funny how you get written off when you're seven games out, and now we go on a little run and we're back," Reds third baseman Todd Frazier said. "That's baseball and that's how things go. You just got to bear with yourself, bear with your team, bear with your city, and that's just the way it goes."

After several games of struggles, the Reds' offense has scored five or more runs in four of the past six games vs. the Cubs and Brewers. The rotation came in 5-2 with a 1.89 ERA in the previous 10 games, and the bullpen has generally been solid with the work of Sam LeCure, Manny Parra and J.J. Hoover stepping up.

"For the most part lately, we've been coming together, and from top to bottom, putting together some good at-bats," catcher Ryan Hanigan said. "We had nine walks [Sunday at Milwaukee] and we had nine runs with no homers. The pitching has been there. The bullpen has been there. If we can keep at it, keep grinding, this is definitely a good team. I feel like we're ready to make a push and really put together a good string. If it doesn't go that way, we have to grind it out a little more."

Reds fans have waited all season for this -- a push to take control of the division they last led on April 22. It seems to be coming together, at just the right time. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has dropped seven of its previous nine games. St. Louis is 9-8 in August and is seeking its first three-game winning streak since late July.

"We knew if we turned around and played the kind of ball we knew we can play, it was going to happen like that," Reds shortstop Zack Cozart said. "The Pirates are going to play the Cardinals like they did. And we're going to play the Pirates. It's going to be whoever is hot at the end. We think we're playing a lot better ball and we can play a lot better than we have, too."

If the season ended today, the Reds would have the second NL Wild Card spot. Clearly, that's not the desired end game. In town is the closest team chasing them in the D-backs, who came in five games back. The Reds are still thinking more about catching Pittsburgh and St. Louis, and less on staving off Arizona.

"We're not trying to slide into the Wild Card," Hanigan said. "That's a flip of the coin if it goes down that way. It's better to be in the driver's seat by winning the division. We've got games against the Cardinals. We've got games against the Pirates. We have a lot of opportunities. It's in our hands."

Reds considering logistics of September callups

Hamilton discusses being in his second Futures Game

CINCINNATI -- The Reds will soon have some decisions to make on September callups, once rosters are allowed to expand on Sept. 1. Those choices are far from clear for general manager Walt Jocketty.

"We're looking at what kind of depth we need. The biggest problem we have is [40-man] roster spots," Jocketty said on Monday.

Cincinnati's roster is currently at its 40-man limit, with two players -- relievers Sean Marshall and Nick Masset -- on the 60-day disabled list not counting against that number.

The one name that figures most in the dilemma is top prospect and speedy center fielder Billy Hamilton, who is not on the 40-man roster. He would have to be added before a promotion.

"We have to find a way to do it without losing people," Jocketty said.