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Joey Votto, Mat Latos return from injury, as fourth-place Reds finally get healthy

Mike Oz
Big League Stew

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Joey Votto, left, and Mat Latos return from injury this week for the hobbled Reds. (AP)

Joey Votto, left, and Mat Latos return from injury this week for the hobbled Reds. (AP)

This wasn't what anybody expected in Cincinnati this season. The Reds without Mat Latos until June, the ever-consistent Joey Votto missing almost a month's worth of games, the team sitting in fourth place in the NL Central while the Milwaukee Brewers, of all clubs, controlled the division.

Unlike the also unfortunately injured Texas Rangers, the Reds are getting closer to the light at the end of their tunnel of disappointment. By Saturday, they should the healthiest they've been all season.

Votto, the team's best hitter, returned to the Reds lineup Tuesday, after missing 23 games with a strained quad. He had a hit and walked in the Reds' 6-1 loss to the Dodgers. Latos, the team's No. 2 starter who is coming off a spring knee surgery, is expected to make his first start of the season Saturday.

In addition to those two, Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman and Devin Mesoraco have spent time on the DL this season, while Billy Hamilton, Brandon Phillips and Ryan Ludwick, all of whom are fixtures in the starting lineup, have been at least day-to-day hurt.

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Rookie Reds manager Bryan Price has been dealt a tough hand in his first season. (Getty Images)

Rookie Reds manager Bryan Price has been dealt a tough hand in his first season. (Getty Images)

The Reds are a team that's been talented enough to win a World Series for a few years now, but could never get things right in the postseason. New manager Bryan Price was installed to fix that, instead he's been dealing with a bustling disabled list. On Tuesday, he told Jon Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, "we're close to being whole."

Here's more from Fay's chat with Price:

So the club is likely to be getting a big boost. Does that make the next few weeks a critical stretch?
"In the end whatever happens, we have to have one more win than the second place team in this division to get ourselves where we want to be," Price said. "I don't have any idea how it's going to play out. All I know is over the next 3 1/2 months, we've got to play better.
"If this is more critical stretch than others, I don't know. I do know that we've got teams ahead of us we're going to be playing. We're playing them a lot before and after the All-Star Break. And we're going to need to beat them or it's going to put us in position that would be hard to rebound from."

As they currently sit, the Reds (29-34) are half a game behind the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central, four behind the St. Louis Cardinals for second place and eight behind the first-place Brewers. However, the timing works out well for the Reds.

They play a three-game series with the Brewers starting Friday, followed by three more against the Pirates beginning next Tuesday. First, they play the Dodgers twice more, Wednesday and Thursday, before traveling to Milwaukee.

If there's a time the Reds can make a jump in the standings, now looks like a pretty good one.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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