The Cincinnati Reds' offense is scuffling and their staff ace is coming off a disastrous outing.
Dusty Baker hopes the return of his All-Star second baseman can help ignite the offense, but he hasn't exactly been swinging a hot bat lately.
Brandon Phillips is scheduled to come back from the paternity list Friday night when the visiting Reds open a series with the surging Texas Rangers.
Cincinnati (45-34) is averaging 2.5 runs and batting .204 in dropping six of eight. Joey Votto is in the middle of the mess, going 2 for 13 in his last four games, while leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo is 1 for 15 with seven strikeouts in his last five.
"Everybody is going to have a streak like this. It didn't matter because we didn't score any runs,'' Baker said after the Reds managed two hits in Wednesday's 5-0 loss to Oakland. "Not only are we not scoring runs but we're not getting any hits either. It's not anything you want to do.
"At least we'll have Brandon back and he adds to the lineup.''
Phillips has missed the last two games, but his return doesn't necessarily mean the offense will suddenly break out considering he's 4 for 36 in his last nine contests.
Baker wasn't concerned after scheduled starter Johnny Cueto (4-1, 3.21 ERA) was knocked around by Arizona last Friday, chalking it up to simply an aberration. Cueto was tagged for seven runs and a career high-tying 11 hits over 4 1-3 innings in an 11-5 loss. He had allowed two runs and 10 hits over 21 innings in his previous three starts.
"Things did not go well,'' Cueto said through a translator. "It is just one outing but a bad outing. I have a lot more outings, so I have to keep my head up and continue.''
He'll be facing a Texas offense that is averaging 4.8 runs and batting .310 with runners in scoring position over a 7-1 stretch. Ian Kinsler is hitting .351 with seven RBIs over his last 10 games, and Nelson Cruz is batting .325 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in that same stretch for the Rangers (46-33), who open a nine-game homestand.
"We're playing good baseball now, and we tend to play better at home," David Murphy told the Rangers' official website after Thursday's 2-0 win over the New York Yankees. "I know our offense tends to perform better at home. It's always good to be at home for 10 or 11 days. Hopefully, we can take advantage of that and win some games and win some series."
Although this will be Cueto's first outing against Texas, the right-hander has historically fared well against the American League, going 5-0 with a 1.39 ERA in seven interleague starts since losing to Seattle on June 18, 2010.
Texas counters with rookie Martin Perez (1-1, 3.65).
Making his second start of the season Saturday in St. Louis, Perez gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings of a 4-2 win.
"I've always seen the stuff, but tonight was the first time I think he showed he's a big-league pitcher,'' manager Ron Washington said of the left-hander, who had a 1.75 ERA in six starts for Triple-A Round Rock. "It can be a huge step, he just beat a pretty good team."
This will be the teams' first meeting since 2007, and the Reds' first trip to Rangers Ballpark since 2002.