CHICAGO -- Despite some key injuries to veteran regulars, including Joey Votto's knee keeping him out since July 17, the Reds still find themselves in first place of the National League Central.
They also own the best record in the Major Leagues since the All-Star break. Consistent starting pitching, plus a dominant closer in Aroldis Chapman, are big reasons why, but the contributions of rookies can't be overlooked.
Shortstop Zack Cozart and versatile infielder/outfielder Todd Frazier have become everyday regulars, and neither gets hidden near the bottom of the order. In fact, Cozart holds down the leadoff role, while Frazier is being slotted into the middle of the order with Votto and veteran Scott Rolen out.
A third rookie, catcher Devin Mesoraco, is also getting more opportunities lately.
"They've come here and they've performed well," Reds manager Dusty Baker said prior to Saturday afternoon's game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. "They've performed well in the absence of [Rolen] and the absence of [Votto]. Frazier plays both [first and third], Cozart plays an excellent shortstop, and Mesoraco is getting better every day."
Cozart and Frazier are both candidates for the NL Rookie of the Year Award for their efforts thus far.
Cozart leads or is tied for first among NL rookies in multihit games (tied with 30), runs (60), hits (106), total bases (175) and extra-base hits (40), while his 13 home runs are the most ever hit by a Reds rookie shortstop. Frazier leads NL rookies in RBIs (47) and slugging percentage (.527), and is tied in triples (5), while he ranks second in home runs (14) and third in total bases (145).
Frazier has started 16 of the 25 games Votto has missed at first base.
"We're going to need these guys to perform if we're going to go to the championship," Baker said. "It's rare that you go as far as a championship with so many rookies in the lineup, but we've got to commend our veterans and commend [the rookies] as well, knowing the job they've had to do, and performing well."
Votto's return delayed after minor knee procedure
CHICAGO -- Joey Votto's return from arthroscopic knee surgery has been delayed by another seven to 10 days, at least.
After Votto complained of soreness following sliding drills on Wednesday, nearing the end of his original rehab schedule, another MRI was taken on Friday in Cincinnati and it revealed a loose piece of cartilage "floating" in his left knee.
Votto, who joined the club for the start of this road trip in Milwaukee and came to Chicago for the start of the series against the Cubs, had the cartilage removed on Friday by Reds medical director Dr. Timothy Kremchek.
"He was having some pain and we sent him back to get a new MRI and get re-examined," Reds head athletic trainer Paul Lessard said prior to Saturday's game at Wrigley Field. "They found basically a little chunk of cartilage floating in his knee, so [Dr. Kremchek] went in and removed it. The whole procedure only took about six minutes, so he's going to stay back in Cincinnati with the physical therapists until we get back home."
Votto originally hurt the knee on June 29 while sliding into third base in San Francisco, tearing the medial meniscus in his left knee. He left the lineup on July 16 and had the original arthroscopic surgery a day later. He was expected to be out three or four weeks from the date of the first surgery, which would've put him on pace to return no later than Tuesday's game against the Mets at Great American Ball Park.
Now, the timetable for his return must be re-adjusted. Lessard told reporters on Saturday to tack on about seven to 10 days to the original timeframe.
Reds manager Dusty Baker talked about Votto's recovery process on Thursday, prior to the discovery of the loose cartilage. At that point, Baker said sliding was the biggest hurdle for baseball players returning from any kind of knee or foot injury. Baker was hoping to get Votto back next week, in time to face some tough pitching matchups, but Saturday's news wipes that out and could potentially keep Votto out through the rest of August.
"One thing about Joey is that he knows his body," Baker said. "He's not going to say something's wrong just to say it. He's really busting to get back, and like I said, the toughest part of his rehab is going to be the sliding part. He tested it out the other day and said he was sore. I'm glad they found it when they did. They went back in the same hole that they did the first time they scoped it, so it's better [it happened] now than later."
Still, the timing isn't all that great for the first-place Reds during a tight race that's unfolding in the National League Central. Cincinnati is already playing this series without veteran third baseman Scott Rolen (day to day) because of stiffness and soreness in his lower back.
"We're in first place, but it hasn't been easy to get here and stay here with the things that have happened to Joey and [Rolen] and [Brandon Phillips]," Baker said. "If we're going to go deep [in the playoffs], we're going to need Scotty and we're going to need Joey. I'd hoped we would get Joey back pretty soon here. You can last without your star player for a while, but after a while and you're facing tough pitching, you're going to need your star player."
Rolen hopeful past history means return is near
CHICAGO -- Suddenly, Scott Rolen's aching back doesn't seem like quite as big of a concern to the Reds after news broke on Saturday that Joey Votto needed another procedure on his left knee.
Votto had a piece of loose cartilage removed from his surgically repaired knee on Friday back in Cincinnati and is expected to be out an additional seven to 10 days from his original expected return date of sometime next week.
Rolen's ailment is a different story. The veteran third baseman said his lower back started giving him trouble toward the end of a three-game series in Milwaukee to start this road trip. He missed the final game of that series and the first three games of the series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, including Saturday's game.
"It's better than [it was Thursday]," Rolen said after Friday's 10-8 win against the Cubs. "I'm not moving too good yet."
Rolen is listed as day to day, but said he's gone through this before and hopes it will clear up relatively soon.
"I know it's not feeling good [right now], but my history's been ... if it's like it's been before, [it should take] a week, or less than a week," Rolen said.
Stubbs reflects on 'crazy play' in Friday's win
CHICAGO -- Friday's 10-8 Reds win was notable for the strong wind conditions and five errors made by the Cubs, including two on one steal attempt in the sixth inning that allowed Drew Stubbs to score.
Stubbs stole second, but Welington Castillo's throw from home plate sailed wide and eluded both Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney. Normally, Stubbs would've advanced to third and stopped, but the ball also got past center fielder Brett Jackson -- who'd charged in to back up on the play.
Stubbs scored easily, but was a little confused about what happened until he got back to the bench and asked his teammates.
"I knew I was going to make it to third, but what I didn't see was, apparently the center fielder came charging in and it took a bad hop on him and got by him," Stubbs said. "As I was going to third, looking at Mark Berry, our third-base coach, he kept waving me on and I was thinking, 'What's going on?' After talking to guys on the bench, I found out it was just a weird play all the way around."
"I've never scored before like that in the big leagues," Stubbs said. "If I've ever done it before, I can't remember it. You'll see it a lot where the throw will get away from the shortstop or second baseman and you advance to third, but I don't know that I've ever advanced all the way to home. That was kind of a crazy play, and definitely not one you see very often."
Right-handed reliever Nick Masset (sprained right shoulder) made his fourth Minor League rehab appearance on Friday night, pitching one scoreless inning and allowing one hit for Triple-A Louisville against the Gwinnett Braves. He's thrown 2 2/3 innings for Louisville in his two appearances with the Bats, allowing one hit, two earned runs and walking one with three strikeouts. Masset is slated to make another appearance for Louisville on Sunday.
After sitting out two games because of a slump at the plate, Baker said that right fielder Jay Bruce will return to the lineup for Sunday's series finale against the Cubs.
Brian Hedger is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.