Tandem strike: Winker, Votto providing pop

Rookie-vet combo wielding 'strike-zone command' at top of lineup

Tandem strike: Winker, Votto providing pop

CINCINNATI -- Not making outs is obviously a good thing for a hitter, and the Reds have one of the best in the business at avoiding them in Joey Votto. Hitting ahead of Votto in the lineup the past four games has been rookie Jesse Winker, who is also showing that he knows how to reach safely.

The Votto-Winker duo combined nicely for four hits during the Reds' 3-2 victory over the Cardinals on Friday. Since his Tuesday recall and being plugged into the starting lineup in right field, Winker is 5-for-16 with two walks and two home runs.

"I think both have very good strike-zone command and hit the ball to all fields and are a bad matchup against left-handed pitching," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "That's where I think it really works. Jesse's comfortable hitting down in the count, and he's confident. We're not having to teeter around a player's confidence. I think with Jesse up there, it doesn't matter who is in the game. I think he's confident he's going to have a good at-bat and put the barrel on the ball."

Winker has been hitting second behind leadoff man Billy Hamilton and ahead of No. 3 hitter Votto.

"I think it's really good when you have Hamilton and then a guy like Winker up there that can see some pitches," Price said. "Certainly, when Zack [Cozart] comes back [from the disabled list], Zack's going to shoot back into that two hole, but Jesse will certainly be in there continuing to play."

Price on close win over Cards

In the first inning, Winker didn't try to do too much with a 1-0 sinker from Cardinals starter Mike Leake. He sharply rolled a single through the middle. Then he scored from first base on Votto's RBI double to right field, while accidentally missing the stop sign from third-base coach Billy Hatcher.

"That was on me," Winker said. "I didn't pick my head back up. Once I was getting to third, my head was down the whole way. I have to pick him up. Luckily it worked out."

In the fifth inning with two outs and one run in that gave the Reds a 2-1 lead, Winker hit an 0-1 Leake changeup through the middle for a single that moved Hamilton to third base.

Winker is slashing .281/.395/.531 over his four big league callups.

"I just try to get on as much as I can for [Votto] and Adam [Duvall]," Winker said. "They're both great at what they do. My motto is I try to be a tough out, be a good AB and try to hit the ball hard. Whatever happens, happens."

Votto followed Winker by lining an RBI single to right field that gave Cincinnati what proved to be the deciding insurance run.

Votto's RBI single

A five-time All-Star, Votto came out of the break in a big slump while batting .128 (5-for-39) over his first 12 second-half games. He's flipped the script since with a nine-game hitting streak while going 14-for-30.

Votto has raised his average over .300 again to .308/.429/.578 with 27 homers and 74 RBIs while playing in all 108 games. He's third in the Majors in on-base percentage.

"He's been great," Price said. "You can't decide that when guys aren't swinging the bat well that it's because they're tired. That isn't how it works. He does a great job of staying in shape. We have a good relationship that allows us just to talk about how he's feeling. He likes being out there every day, and I like having him in the lineup every day. He's doing some great things. Obviously, the two run-scoring base hits were big."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.