By JEFF BARTL
(AP) — Despite missing their top hitter for the majority of the season, the Cincinnati Reds hung around in the competitive NL Central race until their August swoon diminished their playoff chances.
Though Cincinnati’s postseason hopes are dwindling, the Baltimore Orioles appear to be headed toward their first division title in 17 years.
The Reds look to win back-to-back road games for the first time in a month as they open a three-game set with AL East-leading Baltimore on Tuesday night.
Joey Votto, owed more than $200 million through 2023, has played in only 62 games and has been out with a quad injury since July 6.
His rehab has been slowed after still feeling discomfort, and it’s unclear when he’ll be able to return. Despite his absence, the Reds (66-71) were three games over .500 on Aug. 7 and sat four games out of the Central lead.
Cincinnati, which also announced Monday that starting pitcher Homer Bailey has been transfered to the 60-day disabled list due to a right elbow injury suffered in mid-August, has gone 7-15 since that point, though.
It now sits eight games behind first-place St. Louis but avoided a three-game sweep at the hands of Pittsburgh with Sunday’s 3-2 victory, as Chris Heisey hit a two-run homer in the fifth and a solo shot in the ninth.
“It feels good to help the team get a W,” Heisey said. “We needed one.”
Heisey entered that contest hitting .223 in limited action this season.
“I don’t think he’s accomplished what he set out to do this year,” manager Bryan Price said.
Neither have the rest of the Reds, who send Mat Latos to the mound in this contest.
Latos (5-3, 3.15 ERA) went 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA in six August starts, allowing four runs and striking out a season-best 10 while pitching into the eighth inning of Wednesday’s 7-5 win over the Chicago Cubs.
The right-hander started off shaky but settled down through the middle innings.
“That was definitely something we needed,” Price said. “He really turned the corner and made some outstanding pitches.”
Latos has never faced the Orioles (79-57), who had their four-game winning streak snapped with Monday’s 6-4 loss to Minnesota.
Baltimore still holds the largest division lead in the majors at 8 1/2 games over the New York Yankees as it tries to win its first AL East title since 1997.
Nelson Cruz homered Monday and has a baseball-best 36, while Nick Hundley added a three-run shot.
Steve Pearce sat out a third straight game because of an abdominal strain, and J.J. Hardy left in the seventh with back spasms. Both hope to play in this contest.
“I sure hope I’ll be in there (Tuesday),” Hardy said. “I think getting out of there was probably the right decision.”
Bud Norris takes the hill against the Reds looking to get back on track.
Norris (11-8, 4.00) went 3-0 with a 2.59 ERA over his previous four starts before struggling in his last two. He gave up four runs in two innings before a long rain delay in a 7-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 23 before battling through six innings and allowing four runs in Baltimore’s 5-4 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday.
The right-hander’s ERA is the worst it’s been since it reached 4.41 on June 4.
Norris has had some tough outings against the Reds as well, going 0-3 with a 5.11 ERA in seven starts – none since 2012.
Updated September 1, 2014
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