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Phillies-Reds Preview

AP - Sports

While they await the return of star first baseman Joey Votto, the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds will try to end a pair of streaks Tuesday night when they continue a three-game set against the Philadelphia Phillies.

There's no question the Reds want to see Votto return to the lineup as soon as possible, but an 8 1/2-game division lead affords them the luxury of letting the 2010 NL MVP work his way into shape before playing his first game since tearing his left medial meniscus July 15.

Votto, who was hitting .342 at the time of his injury, went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts Monday in a rehab start with Triple-A Louisville. He played two games there, going 1 for 6, and also appeared in three games at Class A Dayton last week, going 1 for 5.

"I felt better today than I felt two days ago,'' Votto said. "The at-bats weren't a concern. I know I struck out a couple of times and missed opportunities to run out of the (batter's) box. I just wanted to move around some at first base.''

Although Votto can be activated from the disabled list and rejoin the Reds, manager Dusty Baker doesn't appear to be in any rush to get his star back in the lineup.

"It's up to him on how he feels," Baker said. "Joey will be here soon. We just can't say when."

Even with its best hitter sidelined for nearly two months, Cincinnati (82-54) is in excellent position to win its second Central title in three seasons. The Reds are one game behind Washington for the best record in the majors and lead the NL with 42 home wins.

They returned to Cincinnati following a 5-1 road trip Monday and opened a nine-game homestand with a 4-2 loss to the Phillies. Jimmy Rollins' three-run homer - his 1,999th career hit - off Johnny Cueto in the fifth inning proved the decisive blow.

The loss was the second straight at Great American Ball Park for the Reds, who have yet to drop three in a row there this season. They have, however, been outscored 27-8 during a six-game home skid against the Phillies (65-70), a stretch that includes a 2-0 loss in Game 3 of the 2010 NL division series.

After going 17-12 in August, Philadelphia could easily be working on a three-game win streak this month if not for blowing a four-run, ninth-inning lead in Sunday's 8-7 loss to Atlanta.

Pitching has been the key to Philadelphia's resurgence with the NL's third-best ERA (3.50) since the All-Star break.

Kyle Kendrick (8-9, 4.01 ERA) has been a big contributor to that success, winning four straight starts for the first time in his career. He's allowed only four earned runs and 19 hits over 29 1-3 innings during that span, walking three and striking out 22.

The right-hander limited the Mets to two runs in 7 2-3 innings of Thursday's 3-2 victory.

Also coming off a very good outing is Cincinnati's Mat Latos (11-4, 3.79), who allowed two runs and five hits over seven innings in a 6-2 win at Arizona on Wednesday.

Although he gave up seven runs in his previous start, Latos posted a 2.61 ERA in six August starts and has won four of five decisions overall.

Latos is 0-2 with a 4.03 ERA in four starts versus the Phillies, all with San Diego. But he's gotten the best of slugger Ryan Howard, who is 0 for 8 with eight strikeouts and a walk in nine plate appearance against the right-hander.

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