Votto helps Reds land first blow vs. Dodgers

Votto helps Reds land first blow vs. Dodgers

Votto helps Reds land first blow vs. Dodgers

CINCINATTI -- Joey Votto was bound to break out of one of the worst slumps of his career, eventually.

Fortunately for the Reds, he did so at quite an opportune time, as Votto's two hits -- including a two-run, go-ahead homer in the fifth inning -- paced Cincinnati in a 3-2 win over the Dodgers on Friday at Great American Ball Park.

"That's what the big boys do," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "You can't hold a good man down too long, especially such a talented man and a determined man."

The win, combined with the Pirates' loss to the Cardinals, helped Cincinnati move to within two games of first-place Pittsburgh and remain 1 1/2 games back of second-place St. Louis.

Perhaps as important, it marked the end of a forgettable stretch for Votto. Entering Friday, the All-Star first baseman was hitless in his last 13 at-bats, tying a season high. He came into the series opener just 4-for-37 since Aug. 26 and batting .178 (16-for-90) since he put together an eight-game hit streak at the end of July and early August.

Following Votto's 0-for-3 effort on Thursday against the Cardinals, Baker asked the slugger if he wanted a day off. Votto declined, insisting to his manager that he was about to get things right.

"And he got it right," Baker said.

Votto reached base in all four of his plate appearances against the Dodgers, drawing a walk in the first inning and delivering a single before eventually coming around to score in the fourth. He also walked in the eighth.

However, his biggest hit of the game came with the Reds trailing, 2-1, in the fifth. Starting pitcher Mike Leake led off the inning with a walk, which was followed by a base hit by Shin-Soo Choo. Although Brandon Phillips hit into a double play in the next at-bat, Votto came through with a two-run shot over the wall in left field to put Cincinnati on top.

Although Votto was pleased to break out of his slump in a big way, he refused to make too much of his performance.

"I was not very happy with the results during that stretch," Votto said. "But this is one game. You're only as good as your last at-bat, so I don't want to get ahead of myself."

Votto's second-to-last at-bat on Friday gave the Reds a lead they would never relinquish, thanks in large part to Leake, who allowed five hits while striking out five.

After the Dodgers jumped out ahead in the first with a two-run homer from Hanley Ramirez, Leake retired 20 of the final 23 batters he faced, including 13 in a row at one point. He threw 98 pitches, 62 for strikes, and did not surrender a walk.

"I felt good," Leake said. "I got in a rhythm. [Catcher Devin Mesoraco] and I worked really well today, just hitting spots and throwing with some attitude and conviction."

Offensively for the Reds, all of their damage came against the Los Angeles bullpen, as starter Chris Capuano retired five of the first six batters he faced before exiting with two outs in the second with a mild left groin strain. Right-hander Peter Moylan came on to pick up the final out of the inning, setting up Stephen Fife, who started the third.

Fife gave up one run in the fourth, when Votto scored on a Ryan Ludwick double play, and was replaced by J.P. Howell in the fifth after the walk to Leake. Three batters later, Howell surrendered what turned out to be the decisive home run.

"I knew it was trouble by the sound off the bat," Howell said of Votto's blast. "He's disciplined. He's strong. I tip my cap to him. I have a lot of respect for him. He works hard. I know he was in a slump, but I'd rather face a guy that's 10-for-10 than someone that is due."

After Leake was finally chased from the game by a two-out single in the eighth, Manny Parra threw one pitch to Carl Crawford, who grounded out to end the inning, before giving way to closer Aroldis Chapman.

Pitching for the fourth straight day for the first time in his career, Chapman struck out the heart of the order on 13 pitches for his 35th save of the season.

"That's why we didn't take him any more than two days in a row early," Baker said of Chapman. "You know down the stretch you're going to play a lot of close games, and you know your closer is going to pitch multiple days. He was still strong."

Following a six-game winning streak, the Dodgers have now lost two straight for the first time since Aug. 24-25. Meanwhile, after taking three of four from the Cardinals, the Reds have won six of their last nine. Friday's game also snapped Cincinnati's three-game losing streak to Los Angeles dating back to a four-game series in late July, when the Dodgers won three straight by a combined five runs.

"In L.A., if I'm not mistaken, they beat us in a few close games," Votto said. "So now it's our turn at home, hopefully."

Jeremy Warnemuende is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.