Reds, Milton rock division rival

Reds, Milton rock division rival

ST. LOUIS -- The reigning Cy Young Award winner was on the mound Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, but it was his counterpart who stole the show. Reds left-hander Eric Milton pitched seven shutout innings and his teammates got to Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter early en route to a 7-0 victory.

Cincinnati (34-24) pulled to within one game of St. Louis (35-23) in the National League Central Division. The Reds, who trailed the Cardinals by five games on June 1, have won six in a row.

"It's good that we're playing well again," said Milton (4-2), who has lowered his ERA from 7.04 to 4.14 in his last three starts. "We hit a little slump there, and now we're back to playing the ball that we were playing even in Spring Training and April."

"Milty is changing speeds real well," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "I know it was hot and humid and he got a little tired there, but he pitched outstanding."

The Reds gave 2005 Cy Young Award winner Carpenter a rude welcome back from the disabled list, roughing him up for three runs on four hits (three extra-base hits) in the first two innings. Carpenter went five innings, allowing three runs on nine hits in his first start since going on the disabled list May 22 with bursitis in his right shoulder.

The three early runs were more than enough for Milton, who made his third straight strong start. Milton scattered five hits in seven innings (never allowing more than one hit in an inning), struck out three and walked no one. He threw 66 of his 100 pitches for strikes. He retired 14 Cardinals on popouts or flyouts, including six on the infield. In his last three starts, Milton has allowed just three earned runs in 22 2/3 innings.

"It's a good feeling pitching well, and hopefully stay on this roll," Milton said. "The team's playing well. It's a lot of fun."

About the only downfall Tuesday was that third baseman Edwin Encarnacion had to leave the game in the fifth inning after turning his left ankle running between second and third base and being tagged out. But Encarnacion was able to walk off the field under his own power. He was replaced by Rich Aurilia in the field, but X-rays were negative and Narron said Encarnacion is considered day-to-day with a mild sprain.

Since coming off the disabled list on May 20 after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, Milton said his changeup has been a big difference in his four starts. His ERA ballooned to 7.04 after allowing five earned runs and 10 hits in five innings in a no-decision to Detroit on May 20. But in his last three starts, the left-hander has given up just 14 hits in 22 2/3 innings.

"It's just the changeup," Milton said about his success Tuesday and over his last few starts. "I was able to spot the fastball and mix in the changeup. It's been something that I've really developed the past couple of weeks and it's been working well."

"He threw well. He threw strike one and a lot of fastballs early in the count for strikes. Then he needed his changeup to work really well tonight, and he had that good fastball-changeup combination going," Reds catcher David Ross said. "I think that's something that you have to do with this lineup is be aggressive. You don't want to fall behind in the count. He did a good job of that tonight."

Felipe Lopez, who had four hits and missed the cycle by a home run on Monday night, lined a home run down the right-field line with one out in the first for a 1-0 Reds lead.

The Reds continued pounding Carpenter in the second on three hits to nearly the same spot. Scott Hatteberg started the barrage with an opposite-field double to the gap in left-center. Brandon Phillips plugged the gap in nearly the same spot for an RBI double, and Ross singled to left-center to make it 3-0.

"[Carpenter] may have been a little rusty. I haven't faced him that much, but it seemed like he gave a couple of guys some pitches to hit and we took advantage of them," Ross said. "It was nice to get out to a little early lead and have Milton pitch the way he does. That's a fun game to be a part of -- when your pitcher's throwing well and we get the lead early."

It's also quite a bit of fun to explode for 15 hits like the Reds did. Six players had at least two hits, including Hatteberg and Phillips with three each.

"That's the one thing that happened to us in May. We just didn't have anybody really hot at the same time, and it just made it tough to score runs," Narron said. "Our pitching pitched well for us in May. I think I said all along that if we can continue to pitch like we did through May we'd have a chance to turn it around and get on a roll, and that's what we've done."

Adam Dunn blasted his 18th homer in the seventh -- a 415-foot, two-run shot to center -- to make it 5-0. Dunn and Hatteberg added RBI doubles in the ninth.

Alan Gerdes is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.