Now that Joey Votto is breaking out of his early power slump, the next priority for Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker is getting Jay Bruce to find his home run stroke.
Votto looks to build on a big weekend while Bruce tries to shake out of his funk for the surging Reds in Monday's opener against the slumping Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park.
After hitting one home run in his first 17 games, Votto homered for the second straight day Sunday in a 10-6 win over Miami, the sixth victory in seven games for Cincinnati (11-8). Votto, who didn't homer in his final 40 games of 2012, is 7 for 11 in his last two contests, raising his batting average to .328 and his on-base percentage to .522 - just shy of teammate Shin-Soo Choo's major league-best .523.
"I told you he was going to hit,'' Baker said. "If you can hit, you'll hit. You don't just stop hitting.''
Baker's philosophy doesn't relate to Bruce, however.
Bruce led the Reds with 34 homers and 99 RBIs last season, but is still seeking his first home run of 2013. He has 26 strikeouts with eight RBIs, with just three coming in the last 12 games.
"Now we have to get Bruce going with a couple of home runs and some RBIs," Baker told the Reds' official website. "Jay is in that position where he gets a lot of opportunities ... The guys hitting in front of him are on base."
Bruce hit .381 with a homer in six home games against the Cubs last season, and that blast came off scheduled starter and former teammate Travis Wood (1-1, 1.83 ERA).
Wood was tagged for seven run in five innings in his return to Cincinnati last August, but has been sharp this season for the Cubs (5-12).
The left-hander has one of the league's lowest ERAs and is limiting opponents to a .191 batting average, but has been backed by two total runs of support.
Wood isn't the only pitcher the Cubs, losers of six of seven, aren't hitting for. In getting swept in Milwaukee over the weekend, Chicago plated three runs in the final two games and went 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position in the series.
"Once again, we only had five hits and one of them was a two-run homer and we didn't score in the other eight innings,'' manager Dale Sveum said after Sunday's 4-2 defeat. "We were o-fer with men in scoring position. It's just a broken record every day.''
They'll try to get things turned around against Mike Leake (1-0, 4.26), who allowed three hits and didn't walk a batter in seven shutout innings in Wednesday's 11-2 win over Philadelphia. The right-hander, who yielded nine runs over 12 innings in his first two starts, struck out seven, walked none and matched a career best with three hits of his own.
"I needed a good performance more than the three hits, but it helped,'' he said. "I was mixing and matching, going after them and staying convicted to your pitch rather than being scared. It's an attitude thing for me."
Leake went 0-1 with a 6.11 ERA in three starts against the Cubs last season - all at Wrigley Field. He is 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA in four starts against them at Great American Ball Park.
Starlin Castro, batting .333 during a 13-game hitting streak, is 11 for 28 (.393) lifetime against Leake.
Castro's counterpart at shortstop, Zack Cozart, is back in Cincinnati's lineup just two days after suffering what he thought was a broken finger when he was hit by a pitch. X-rays were negative and the finger made a quicker-than-expected recovery.
Cozart is hitting .333 in his last eight games.