Reds-Cubs Preview

The Associated Press

While Jay Bruce will return to the Cincinnati Reds lineup, Scott Rolen might not be ready to do the same and Joey Votto certainly isn't.

A day after learning Votto will be out longer than expected, Cincinnati hopes Bruce begins getting back on track in the finale of a seven-game road trip Sunday against the Chicago Cubs.

The Reds (68-46) have stayed atop the NL Central with a major league-best 21-8 record since the All-Star break despite losing Votto to a torn meniscus July 15. The 2010 NL MVP rejoined the team for this road swing, and it was believed he would be fully recovered from surgery to play next week.

That hope went away with Votto returning to Cincinnati on Friday to undergo another procedure. He had cartilage removed after feeling soreness in the knee, pushing back his return at least another seven to 10 days.

Rolen had been helping fill the void, batting .358 since the All-Star break. However, a sore back has forced him to miss the last four games, and he remains day to day.

"If we're going to go deep (in the playoffs), we're going to need Scotty and we're going to need Joey," manager Dusty Baker told the team's official website. "I'd hoped we would get Joey back pretty soon here."

Baker now hopes Bruce can get going as he sticks the slugger back in the lineup. He was given the last two days off - both Reds wins - after going 1 for 16 with seven strikeouts to start the road trip.

Bruce has a team-high 21 homers but none over his past 10 games. He's homered once in his last 20 at Wrigley Field.

Ryan Ludwick has stepped up, batting .380 with 19 RBIs over his last 14 games. He's driven in five through three games of this series after delivering the go-ahead, two-run double in the eighth inning of Saturday's 4-2 victory.

"I think everyone in here is praying and wishing (Votto) can get back as soon as possible because we definitely need him on our team, but I think some of the guys have taken it as a challenge to pick one another up," Ludwick said.

Also delivering in this series are Todd Frazier, 7 for 11 with six RBIs, and Brandon Phillips, 8 for 15 with four runs scored.

They'll look to keep producing for Johnny Cueto (14-6, 2.58 ERA), who had won five straight starts before allowing three runs in seven innings of a 3-1 loss at Milwaukee on Tuesday.

Cueto has given up three homers in two starts this month after not allowing one in 11 consecutive outings.

He's 5-6 with a 3.55 ERA in 15 starts against the Cubs. The right-hander won the only time he faced them this year, surrendering one earned run in 6 1-3 innings of a 4-3 road victory April 22.

Chicago's Brooks Raley (0-1, 15.75) gets a second start in place of the injured Matt Garza. He had an awful major league debut Tuesday, yielding seven runs and eight hits in four innings of a 7-4 defeat at San Diego.

"You'd have to say I was definitely nervous," said Raley, the Cubs' minor league pitcher of the month for July. "It was a good experience, a good one to get out of the way."

All-Star Bryan LaHair is in a 3-for-34 slump for the Cubs (44-68), losers of 10 of 11.

Reds closer Aroldis Chapman has saved the last two games, converting 19 straight chances with 44 strikeouts over 20 2-3 scoreless innings. He's pitched on three consecutive days only once this season.