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Diamondbacks-Reds Preview

AP - Sports

The Cincinnati Reds need someone to step up in Joey Votto's absence, but so far it hasn't happened.

The Reds close a four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday, trying to salvage a split and stay at least tied for first place in the NL Central.

Playing its first series without Votto, who underwent surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee Tuesday and is expected to miss three to four weeks, Cincinnati (51-40) has lost two of three against Arizona, including a 7-1 defeat Wednesday.

The Reds have totaled eight runs while hitting .229 during the series. They failed attempts at two sacrifice bunts in the early innings Wednesday.

"Those are the things you have to do if you're going to play winning baseball," manager Dusty Baker told the Reds' official website.

With Votto out, Cincinnati is looking for production from other sources such as Jay Bruce, but his average over the last 11 games fell to .119 after he went 0 for 4 on Wednesday.

The loss dropped Cincinnati into a tie with Pittsburgh for first place in the division. The Reds had won six straight going into this series.

As the offense slumps without Votto, the importance of starting pitching increases. Fortunately for the Reds, who are coming off Mat Latos' first loss since April 18, Mike Leake (3-6, 3.96 ERA) has pitched extremely well recently.

Leake has a 1.95 ERA over his last five starts, dropping his ERA below four for the first time this season. He gave up two runs over six innings of a 3-2, 10-inning win against St. Louis on Saturday.

The right-hander faced Arizona (44-47) twice last season, giving up nine runs and 13 hits in 11 2-3 innings but picking up a win at home.

He'll want to pitch carefully to Stephen Drew, who is 4 for 6 with a double against Leake. However, Drew is hitting .192 in 15 games since coming off the disabled list following ankle surgery.

Leake has never faced the Diamondbacks' Jason Kubel, who returned Wednesday from a sore hamstring which kept him sidelined four games and homered in his first two at-bats. Kubel now has five homers and 12 RBIs in his last nine games.

"That was nice, a fun one today," Kubel said. "I knew I'd be in there today and it would feel good. There wasn't a concern about it."

His return helped spark Arizona's offense, which had been held to either one run or none in four of its previous five games.

The Diamondbacks are looking to win their first road series since taking two of three at San Diego from June 1-3. They had lost five straight series away from home before at least earning a split of this one.

Arizona's Joe Saunders (4-6, 3.52) will hope for a better start Thursday in his second outing since coming off the disabled list.

After being sidelined almost a month with a strained throwing shoulder, Saunders gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings of a 4-1 loss to Chicago last Saturday.

"Felt great. It was fun to get back out, start contributing again," he said.

The left-hander is 0-2 with a 6.61 ERA in three starts against the Reds.

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