Bruce expected back in lineup as Reds start series with Cardinals

Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce is set to return following knee surgery.  

Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

While losing All-Star first baseman Joey Votto is far from ideal, the Cincinnati Reds are looking forward to getting fellow lefty slugger Jay Bruce back.

After a nearly three-week absence, Bruce should be in the lineup Friday night when Cincinnati opens a three-game home set against the surging St. Louis Cardinals.

The Reds (21-24) were originally hoping Votto would be able to return following a few days off, but they ended up placing him on 15-day disabled list prior to Wednesday’s 2-1 win at Washington. Votto, dealing with a strained quadriceps, is batting .257 with six homers and 12 RBIs in 39 games.

"We don’t want to give Joey a week off and then have Joey slightly improved from when we left him," manager Bryan Price said. "We may not be able to get him to 100 percent during the year, but 90 percent would be a lot better than 50 percent."

Bruce, meanwhile, was activated from the DL on Wednesday but didn’t play. The two-time All-Star underwent surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his left knee earlier this month.

The Reds, who went 6-8 while averaging 2.9 runs during Bruce’s absence, are hoping he can provide a spark.

"We have the ability to do more offensively," Price said. "And we know we’re better than we’ve performed. … We can talk about treading water until we get whole again, but when you look at that lineup, it’s not a lineup that’s going to embarrass me or any opponent. That’s a lineup that’s going to go out there and have the ability to score runs."

Getting things going could prove difficult against the Cardinals (26-21), who have won seven of eight behind a 2.08 ERA. St. Louis hits the road after limiting Arizona to four runs in a three-game sweep.

"I think we’re starting to see a glimpse here of a good look, really, at what we can do," manager Mike Matheny said after Thursday’s 4-2 victory. "You’re seeing good defensive plays, very consistent pitching, and you’re starting to see those big hits. We had the big two-out hits today, those sorts of things we believe we can do. It’s nice not just to believe it, but to actually see it."

The Cardinals give the ball to Shelby Miller (6-2, 2.79 ERA), who is 6-0 with a 1.79 ERA over his last seven starts. The right-hander won his fifth consecutive outing Saturday, yielding one unearned run and five hits over seven innings to beat Atlanta 4-1.

"Shelby had a great game plan going in and did a great job of executing today," Matheny told MLB’s official website. "He’s got to stick with his bread and butter, which is the deception in the four-seam fastball. Today, he added the best breaking ball we have seen from him."

Miller allowed three runs over six innings in a 4-0 loss to the Reds on April 9, dropping to 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA lifetime in the series.

Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey (3-3, 5.44) had gone 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA in his first three starts this month before getting hit hard in Saturday’s 12-1 loss at Philadelphia. The right-hander yielded a season-high six runs in 3 2-3 innings.

"I didn’t have command with anything," he said. "Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. I’ve been there before. You just have to keep working hard and keep your focus."

Bailey is 5-10 with a 5.01 ERA versus the Cardinals, his most losses against any team. He yielded eight runs over two starts spanning 9 1-3 innings against them in April.

Cincinnati has dropped four of six to St. Louis this season.