CINCINNATI (AP) — The best way for Jason Kubel to protect that balky hamstring? Just jog around the bases.
Out of the lineup for the last four games because of a sore right hamstring, Kubel returned Wednesday night and homered in his first two at-bats, powering the Diamondbacks to a 7-1 victory that dropped the Reds back into a first-place tie in the NL Central.
The outfielder hurt his hamstring when he slipped on wet grass at Wrigley Field during a loss on Friday night. He felt good after a strenuous workout on Tuesday, so manager Kirk Gibson decided to put him back in the lineup for the third game of their series against the Reds.
When a thunderstorm hit shortly before the start of the game on Wednesday, Gibson asked Kubel if he felt comfortable playing on another wet field.
“I talked to him about it and he said he was fine,” Gibson said.
Better than fine.
Kubel hit a two-run shot in the first inning and a solo homer in the fourth off Mat Latos (7-3), who lost for the first time since April 18. Latos forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk in his second-shortest start of the season.
“That was nice, a fun one today,” Kubel said. “I knew I’d be in there today and it would feel good. There wasn’t a concern about it.”
The two quick homers reminded the Diamondbacks of how much Kubel means to the offense. They had scored one run or less in four of their last five games.
“You miss him when he’s not in there,” said Ian Kennedy (7-8). “He’s one of our more consistent guys. He has good at-bats even when he doesn’t get hits. After a couple of days off, he was fresh. He was hitting the ball really good tonight.”
Kennedy made the early lead hold, giving up eight hits and a run in eight innings. He struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter.
Kennedy used his fastball to get out of early threats, then turned to his breaking ball later in the game.
The Reds have lost two of three since learning that first baseman Joey Votto needed surgery on his left knee. He’s expected to be sidelined for three to four weeks.
Votto had torn cartilage repaired on Tuesday. He was in the Reds’ clubhouse on Wednesday, getting treatment and defending the decision not to have an MRI on the knee for more than two weeks.
Cincinnati’s offense has struggled without him, knocking the Reds into a first-place tie with Pittsburgh. The Pirates beat Rockies 9-6 earlier Wednesday.
Their best chance was another solid start from Latos, who hadn’t lost in his last 15 games. The right-hander was 7-0 with 3.43 ERA during that span, which included three blown saves behind him.
This time, Latos didn’t have it.
Aaron Hill singled in the first inning, extending his hitting streak to nine games. Kubel followed with a homer to center, extending Great American Ball Park’s streak to 71 consecutive games with a homer since last July 29. It’s the longest such streak since Coors Field had 80 games with a homer in 2002-03.
Kubel led off the fourth with his 17th homer, his first multihomer game of the season.
Latos failed to make it through the fifth inning for only the third time this season. Hill doubled home a run in the fifth, and the Reds decided to intentionally walk Kubel with two outs to load the bases for Miguel Montero. Latos fell behind 3-0 in the count, got two foul-ball strikes, then threw one up-and-in for a walk that made it 5-1 and ended his outing.
Latos took off his red cap and fired his glove into the dugout tunnel when he left the field.
The Reds stranded runners in scoring position in each of the first four innings. Drew Stubbs singled home a run in the second, but the Reds couldn’t get another clutch hit out of a lineup missing its most dependable run producer with Votto gone.
NOTES: It was Kubel’s seventh career two-homer game. … The Diamondbacks sent rookie RHP Trevor Bauer back to Triple-A a day after his worst start in the majors. The 21-year-old lasted three innings in a 4-0 loss on Tuesday night. RH reliever Jonathan Albaladejo was called up from Reno. … The Reds optioned RHP Todd Redmond back to Triple-A Louisville and called up OF Xavier Paul to help the offense while Votto is out. Redmond was with the Reds for only one day, called up for insurance in case RHP Johnny Cueto had problems with a blister on his pitching hand Tuesday night. … Cincinnati gave away Jay Bruce bobbleheads. He went 0 for 4.