CINCINNATI (AP) — The Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati start the second half of the season the same way they ended the first — with Nick Castellanos and the Reds hoping to pick up where they left off.
After Castellanos and the resurgent Reds won three out of four in Milwaukee last weekend to pull within four games of the NL Central-leading Brewers, the schedule matches them up again for a three-game set in Cincinnati right after the All-Star break.
In the last two games the Reds scored go-ahead runs in the ninth inning off All-Star closer Josh Hader. Cincinnati’s spare-parts bullpen has struggled for much of the season but suddenly looked unbeatable.
The Reds are sizzling in July, winning nine of 11 since dropping a rain-shortened game to the Padres on June 30. Cincinnati won the series finale with San Diego on July 1, swept the Cubs and took two out of three from Kansas City before besting the Brewers.
Eugenio Suarez, hitting just .175, homered to lead off the Reds ninth Saturday night in the 4-3 victory, and Castellanos’ two-out hit in ninth drove in two runs in a 3-1 win Sunday.
“The players are stepping up in every way, having fun, enjoying themselves, believing in themselves and having confidence they can do it,” Reds manager David Bell said. “It’s just been a pleasure being around these guys, watching them go about it this way. You couldn’t ask for any more.”
Cincinnati’s revolving-door staff will get some more arms soon. Right-hander Michael Lorenzen, who has yet to pitch this season because of a shoulder strain, could be activated before Friday’s game against the Brewers. Right-hander Jeff Hoffman, who began the season in the starting rotation, also will be available soon.
Tejay Antone and Lucas Sims, two of the top bullpen guys, could return from the injured list by the end of the month.
Jesse Winker (.301) and Castellanos (.331) have been among the major league’s top hitters all season and started in the outfield for the National League in Tuesday night’s All Star Game. Hustling rookie Jonathan India has become a fixture leading off and playing second base, pacing the team with a .397 on-base percentage.
Joey Votto, the 37-year-old first baseman who missed a month with a fractured thumb, is getting key hits. He singled in the first inning Sunday to drive in the Reds’ first run.
“We have to play some really strong baseball the rest of the way,” Votto said. “We think we can do that.”
The Brewers, who piled up 11 straight wins from June 22 to July 3 to build an eight-game lead over the Reds, have lost six of their last eight since.
Hader was terrific in June, allowing just three hits and no runs and logging eight saves. He got his 21st save in Thursday night’s 5-3 win in the opener of the Reds series but wasn’t so fortunate on Saturday and Sunday.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell isn’t concerned. He knows the long season has ups and downs, and he says Hader will be fine.
“It’s been a really good first half, and there’s exciting baseball ahead of us,” Counsell said. “There’s a lot for us to prove.”
It starts Friday night in Cincinnati. Pitching matchups for the series haven’t been announced yet.
“They’re the ones chasing us right now,” said Brewers All-Star right-hander Brandon Woodruff, who threw six innings of one-run ball in Sunday’s loss. “We played some close games here (in Milwaukee). Seems like they always play us really well here. Hopefully we can come out in the second half and win some ball games at their place and keep it rolling.”
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