Aramis Ramirez is looking better and so are the Chicago Cubs, even though they keep losing injured players.
On a day when Ted Lilly went on the disabled list and Derrek Lee left the game with back spasms, Ramirez came through with another big blow that should ease concerns about his dislocated left shoulder.
Ramirez hit his second homer in two days and the Cubs beat the struggling Cincinnati Reds 5-3 on Saturday for their ninth victory in 12 games.
“I feel good at the plate right now,” Ramirez said.
Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley added solo shots to back a strong start by Kevin Hart (2-1) and send the Reds to their fifth straight loss.
Ramirez gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead in the first with a two-run drive after compiling four hits the previous game. He is 8 for 13 in his last three games after hitting .190 in his first 11 back following a nearly two-month absence due to a separated shoulder.
Soriano added his 17th homer in the fifth off Johnny Cueto, and Bradley, after getting booed, connected against David Weathers in the eighth for his first career pinch-hit homer.
That was enough for Hart, who allowed one run over six innings in place of the injured Lilly to win his second consecutive start.
Hart got plenty of advice from Lilly.
“He was sitting right next to me all day in the dugout talking to me about pitch selection,” Hart said.
Lilly went on the DL before the game with inflammation in his left shoulder, and Lee left before the top of the eighth. The first baseman said his back spasms weren’t serious.
The Cubs, meanwhile, are starting to look like the serious contenders they expected to be. Minor league call-ups such as Randy Wells, Jake Fox and now Hart are giving big contributions and stars such as Ramirez and Soriano are starting to come around.
“Everybody’s stepping up,” Lee said. “That’s what it’s going to take to get through injuries. I think we have a good team and we’re starting to show it.”
The Reds got solo homers from Joey Votto and Jonny Gomes in the ninth off Aaron Heilman that made it 5-3 before Kevin Gregg came on to retire Jerry Hairston Jr. for his 20th save in 23 chances.
It was another rough day for the Reds.
“We’re down and (if) we’re going to continue to play the way we’ve been playing, shoot, we’re going to be right behind the Pirates,” said Brandon Phillips, who went 1 for 3 and had his 100th career steal.
Manager Dusty Baker added: “We’re just in a bad way right now. Not playing real good, a lot of things aren’t going our way.”
Cueto (8-7) allowed four runs and nine hits in six innings while falling to 0-3 in his last four starts.
He barely made it out of the first after Cincinnati scored a run in the top half. Lee hit an RBI triple that was misplayed by right fielder Chris Dickerson, and then Ramirez went deep.
That set the tone for the Cubs on a day when their lone All-Star went on the DL and another key player had to leave the game.
Lilly also expects to have arthroscopic knee surgery Monday and likely won’t be back until at least mid-August, a major blow for a team that began the day 1 1/2 games behind NL Central leader St. Louis.
His fill-in wasn’t bad, though.
Making his third start, the 26-year-old Hart allowed five hits after having his turn moved up a day. He even saved a run in the fourth with a neat barehand stab on Edwin Encarnacion‘s chopper with a runner on third, drawing cheers from a crowd that let out a few groans when the Reds scored first.
“Just a reaction play,” Hart said.
With Lilly on the DL, the Cubs called up right-handed reliever Justin Berg from Triple-A Iowa. Manager Lou Piniella said he considered putting Sean Marshall in the rotation, but that would have left the bullpen without a lefty. He also thought about starting Jeff Samardzija on Sunday rather than move the rest of the rotation up a day. Instead, Rich Harden will start Sunday, with Carlos Zambrano pitching Monday against Houston. … Reds C Ryan Hanigan was a late scratch from the lineup because of a stiff neck. Craig Tatum started in his place.