CINCINNATI (AP) - The Cincinnati Reds are hoping for a strong finish to August after a difficult weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals, and help is on the way for the NL Central leaders.
The Reds announced Sunday that All-Star first baseman Joey Votto will begin a rehab assignment Tuesday at Single-A Dayton, a bright silver lining on the same day they lost 8-2 to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Matt Holliday had four hits and four RBIs as St. Louis handed the Reds their second series loss in 13 sets since the All-Star break. The Cardinals have won five of six to move within six games of the first-place Reds, who are 8-6 in a grueling stretch of 17 games in 16 days that manager Dusty Baker called the toughest of the season.
``This was a tough series,' Baker said. ``This is a tough stretch for us. We knew it'd be tough.'
Votto hasn't played since July 15 after injuring his left knee sliding into third base on June 28 in San Francisco. The 2010 NL MVP started the All-Star game and is hitting .342 with 14 home runs and 49 RBIs.
``I'm a little apprehensive because I haven't played in a long time,' Votto said before Sunday's loss. ``The work on the field has been good. I have a long way to go on my swing. The things that I'm uncomfortable about will come out when I play in Dayton.'
The Reds could have used Votto on Sunday against Adam Wainwright, who won his fifth consecutive start.
Wainwright (13-10) allowed two runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings while improving to 6-0 with a 1.80 ERA in his last seven starts overall. The 6-foot-7 right-hander, who missed all of last season because of elbow surgery, hasn't lost since July 18 at Milwaukee.
``Wainwright threw the ball well,' Baker said. ``There's not much else to say, except they beat us.'
Reds right-hander Homer Bailey (10-9) gave up five runs in six innings while falling to 1-3 with a 6.04 ERA in five August starts. He also allowed a season-high nine hits for the sixth time.
The Cardinals strung together four consecutive ground-ball singles during a five-hit third inning that plated three runs. Skip Schumaker led off with a double to right-center, and Wainwright chipped in with a one-out single into left field. Schumaker scored on Jon Jay's base hit up the middle and Matt Carpenter singled to load the bases for Matt Holliday's two-run single to left.
``That's the way it goes,' Bailey said. ``I can hold my head up high. I was trying to get them to hit ground balls and get some double plays and keep the ball in the yard. It wasn't like I was all over the place. I didn't have any walks. You've just got to tip your cap to them.'
St. Louis added two more runs in the sixth to make it 5-0. Holliday hit a leadoff triple before Craig drove a 1-2 pitch over the wall in left for his 20th homer.
Chris Heisey and Ryan Ludwick had RBI singles in the sixth for Cincinnati, which beat the Cardinals 8-2 on Saturday.
Holliday doubled in a run in the seventh and singled in Carpenter in the ninth.
``It's a situation where they came in swinging the bats,' Baker said of St. Louis, which finished with 42 hits in the series. ``We couldn't put them away.'
The Reds open a three-game series at Arizona on Monday night. They are off Thursday before closing out the trip with three at last-place Houston.
``We've got to push and push the next three days,' Baker said. ``These are the dog days. We've got to finish strong in August.'
NOTES: Votto has undergone two minor surgical procedures related to a torn meniscus in his knee. The Reds are 27-14 since Votto left the lineup. ... RHP Nick Masset was awaiting the results of an MRI on his right shoulder after soreness returned following his rehab appearance with Triple-A Louisville on Aug. 21. Masset has been on the disabled list since spring training. ... The Reds and Cardinals meet one more time this season, in the final series Oct. 1-3 in St. Louis.
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