Reds break from slump, start getting players back

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CINCINNATI (AP) - The Reds have emerged from their worst start in two decades.

A 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday gave Cincinnati its first consecutive victories and winning series this season. Johnny Cueto pitched one of the best games of his career, a three-hitter for his third shutout with a career-high 12 strikeouts.

And the Reds left town feeling things were finally coming together after two very bad weeks.

“Our expectations are nothing short of going to the playoffs,” shortstop Zack Cozart said. “It’s early in the season.”

In a sense, Cincinnati’s season is just getting started.

The Reds opened with eight players on the disabled list, the most in the majors. Among the missing: closer Aroldis Chapman, setup relievers Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall, starter Mat Latos and catcher Devin Mesoraco.

One by one, they’re getting them back. And it’s making a difference.

Mesoraco returned from a strained oblique and became Cincinnati’s hottest hitter. An offense that was second-last in the majors in runs has started scoring them in bunches. Mesoraco has gone 11 for 22 in six games with three doubles, three homers and nine runs batted in.

“I think confidence is a factor,” manager Bryan Price said. “The oblique was a setback, but he came back strong and he’s kept it going. I think it helps knowing that he’s our catcher and he’s going to play.”

With leadoff hitter Billy Hamilton struggling - a .170 batting average and a .220 on-base percentage - Price moved Joey Votto up one spot in the order to second. Whether it’s just coincidence, Votto started hitting after the move, going 8 for 17 with three homers.

“I really don’t know if it make too much of an impact overall,” Votto said of his batting order shift. “I think it’s pretty minimal.”

Once Cincinnati’s best hitter started producing, the team-wide slump ended. The Reds have scored 30 runs in the last four games after managing only 28 runs in the first 11 games.

“The first week or two, we faced really tough pitching,” Cozart said. “It’s tough when you get off to a bad start. Joey’s swinging a hot bat, and the rest of the lineup is feeding off that.”

The bullpen was the other problem during those tough two weeks, missing three of its key performers.

Chapman was hit on the forehead by a line drive on March 19 and had a plate put into his forehead to help fractures heal. He had to rest completely for a few weeks, but has started getting back into shape.

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