Another narrow win softens bats' struggles

Another narrow win softens bats' struggles

HOUSTON -- Amid all of the hand wringing over the Reds' lack of a robust offense lately are two undeniable facts following Monday's 4-3 win over the Astros.

With two legs of a 10-game road trip in the books, the Reds are 5-2 and they're 7-5 overall. Monday's victory gave Cincinnati three of four in the series at Minute Maid Park. That came on the heels of beating the Brewers two of three.

"Hopefully, it's going to be a lot of fun when everybody gets going," said Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who hit a two-run double in the top of the seventh for the game-winning hit. "I'm looking forward to it. Until then, we'll do our best to win these tight games and just hopefully keep beating these teams in the division.

The Reds will fly to Chicago trailing the first-place Cubs and Cardinals by only a half-game.

"I know it's early, but they all count," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

The Reds came into the game hitting a Major League-low .210 as a team but have benefited from a lot of solid pitching. On Monday, it was starter Bronson Arroyo who delivered seven innings and allowed three earned runs on nine hits to move his record to 3-0.

Arroyo's sinker was handy, as he induced 10 ground balls, including two double plays.

"I can't complain, man," said Arroyo, who struck out six without a walk. "I haven't even felt lights-out, but I've been getting enough outs, a lot of double-play balls and getting runners on a lot and just squeezing out of innings. Fortunate enough, everything has fallen into place for us."

The Reds had a 2-1 lead in the sixth when Arroyo nicely fielded Miguel Tejada's sharp comebacker to the mound and turned a double play for two outs. But Arroyo couldn't get out clean after he hung a first-pitch curveball to Lance Berkman, who crushed a homer to right field. Carlos Lee made it back-to-back long balls with a drive to left field and a 3-2 Astros lead. The Tejada, Berkman and Lee trio came in batting .355 with seven homers lifetime vs. Arroyo.

"The best part about it is I don't think a single player on that bench was concerned," Votto said. "There was a real confidence feeling because, combined with a strong bullpen, there are guys on this team that believe in us in general. Guys didn't have their heads down after they hit the back-to-back home runs."

Paul Janish started the Reds' seventh-inning comeback against Mike Hampton with a single and went to second on Arroyo's sacrifice bunt. Against Geoff Geary (0-2), Willy Taveras reached on an infield single to the shortstop before Jerry Hairston Jr. walked.

Houston summoned left-hander Tim Byrdak to face the lefty-hitting Votto, who drove a double high off the left-center-field wall that just missed being a grand slam. It still scored Janish and Taveras for the tying and go-ahead runs. A hook-sliding Hairston was tagged out at the plate by catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

Arroyo came out after 81 pitches and seven innings, and the one-run lead teetered on the brink throughout a tense Astros' eighth inning. Although Houston had a fleet of right-handed hitters due up, right-handed setup man David Weathers was left in the bullpen. So were righties Mike Lincoln and Jared Burton.

It was up to lefty Arthur Rhodes.

"We tried to stay away from [Weathers] because he had a 28-pitch inning last night," Baker said. "Plus, Tejada didn't hit [Rhodes] very well. Lee is always dangerous but didn't have many at-bats against him and [Hunter] Pence is usually better against right-handers than left-handers. It was like, 'Hey, c'mon, Arthur.'"

After pinch-hitter Jason Michaels led off the eighth with a double and went to third on a sacrifice, Rhodes worked around and walked Tejada and got Berkman to fly out on a first pitch. Lee was also pitched carefully and drew a walk.

In a thrilling nine-pitch duel (all fastballs) that included three two-strike foul balls, Rhodes got Pence to look at strike three to squelch the threat. Francisco Cordero dealt a one-hit ninth for his fifth save.

Last season, the Reds were 31-50 on the road and 31-47 vs. National League Central foes. Both Houston (4-9) and Milwaukee (4-8) have struggled lately. The final leg of the trip vs. 7-4 Chicago could be a good litmus test, besides being a battle for first place.

"Obviously, we're going to a place that will be tough," Arroyo said. "They're feeling good about themselves. Over the last three years, we've been pretty bad playing on the road. If we go to Chicago and take two out of three, it would probably be the best road trip we've had in the four years I've been here."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.