SAN FRANCISCO -- Reds shortstop Zack Cozart has notched four RBIs in the first three wins over the Giants in the series. Cozart's two-run single lined to center field in the top of the 11th inning broke up a tie game and led to a 7-3 victory. He also drove in the first run of both Thursday's and Friday's wins.
"It's nice," Cozart said. "It's been probably a month and a half now that I've felt pretty good for the most part at the plate."
Cozart, who came into Sunday batting .233, started the season 0-for-22 and was batting only .180 through the first month. He's been gradually producing and trying to climb out of that early hole. He's been trying to stay on the ball to hit it hard to the middle or opposite field.
"Overall, I think I've had pretty good at-bats, consistently, for a month and a half," Cozart said. "If I keep doing that, I'll start getting hits like I did the last couple of at-bats."
Sticking to hitting plan has paid off for Reds
SAN FRANCISCO -- The engine under the hood of the Reds lineup has been humming strong and loud lately as improved offensive production has been a big part of the recent winning surge.
Entering Sunday, Cincinnati averaged 5.8 runs per game and batted .279 over its previous 18 games and had scored six or more runs in nine games. In June, the Reds lead the National League with a .327 average with runners in scoring position.
In the 62 games prior to June 10, the team averaged 3.5 runs and batted .237. It was clear that the Reds' offense was sputtering and lacked energy. There were seven shutout losses, including one game where only the minimum 27 batters batted vs. Arizona's Josh Collmenter on May 29.
Reds hitting coach Don Long didn't believe anything really changed dramatically in the team's approach, but rather the opposite. Long credited the players for sticking with the battling philosophy in at-bats that's been installed since the start of the season.
"When you're contentious about doing things the right way, play the game and not getting results that match the effort you're putting in, there's a lot of frustration," Long said Sunday. "Ultimately, you arrive to the point where you say being frustrated isn't helping. We're doing the work and we're doing the preparation. We have to go out and trust what we have."
Joey Votto returned to the lineup June 10 when he was activated from the disabled list, and Jay Bruce and Devin Mesoraco also missed time on the DL this season. While Bruce and Mesoraco have taken off at the plate, Votto has yet to. But his presence in the lineup has brought stabilization.
"It allows Bryan [Price, the manager] to put guys in their more natural spots in the order and allowed everything to kind of settle down," Long said. "I think we are capturing the mindset of understanding our strengths and trying to hit to those strengths until two strikes, and then being really willing to battle through the at-bat from there. We understand there is value in an at-bat that may end up in an out or a strikeout, that it made the pitcher work. If every guy in the order has that mindset, you'll have some games where it doesn't look particularly good the first four or five innings but the starter has 80, 90 pitches and you're wearing him down.
"There is a mentality from a pitcher's standpoint that 'I'm trying to put a guy away and put my best pitch right where I wanted it and he's still up there and not out.' Our guys have a resolve to their at-bats now. I think it's been building and part of what we're trying to do."
Reds doing fine despite going with short bench
SAN FRANCISCO -- When the bullpen got used heavily earlier this month, the Reds added an eighth reliever in Carlos Contreras on June 21. That has left the bench shorthanded with four players instead of five. In a game like Saturday's win that went 11 innings, the only position player not used was Skip Schumaker. Manager Bryan Price doesn't feel pinched by a lack of flexibility, however.
"It's more of an awareness, and awareness of not wanting to burn a player early in the game that could come back and bite you," Price said Sunday. "That's where Ramon Santiago's role is so important even though he doesn't play a great deal. He can play any of the infield positions and play left field. He hits from both sides of the plate. Unfortunately sometimes, his versatility hurts my desire to want to use him in case we get into one of those situations, especially with a short bench."
The Reds have generally used the same lineup lately, with the exception of left field, where Ryan Ludwick and Schumaker have shared time. There hasn't been a lack of production overall, which has helped.
"We went through that period where our bullpen was so beat up that we had to have the extra guy. Our good fortune is we haven't had the opposite happen where we felt short on the bench and vulnerable," Price said. "That day will come. We all know that. Right now we're playing with that luxury of an eighth reliever."
Price's first hitter off the bench Saturday was backup catcher Brayan Pena, who batted for pitcher Alfredo Simon in the top of the eighth inning. It left the Reds without a catcher if something had happened to Devin Mesoraco. It could have required the use of an emergency catcher.
"We have the same situation as a lot of clubs in that you do have somebody that you would put back there who will not be specified at this point in time because they probably don't even know they'd be the guy," Price said with a chuckle.
Reds need late final push in All-Star voting
SAN FRANCISCO -- Voting for the 2014 All-Star is in the final days. The last update of balloting results for the National League will come Tuesday. During last week's update, second baseman Brandon Phillips and catcher Devin Mesoraco were both fifth at their positions.
No other Reds infielders were in the top five and no outfielders were ranked in the top 15.
Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday at 11:59 p.m. ET. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15, on FOX.