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CIN@HOU: Bailey fans nine over eight innings of work

With their star first baseman back in the fold, the Reds look to continue to build on a comfortable lead in the National League Central when they host the last-place Astros, owners of baseball's worst record, in the first of a three-game series on Friday.

After an off-day on Thursday, Cincinnati (83-55), which owns a Major League-best 36-17 record since the All-Star break, will send Homer Bailey to the hill for Friday's series opener. For the second time in six days, the 26-year-old righty will match up against Astros rookie Lucas Harrell.

Only this time, the Reds hope to give Bailey a little more run support. In Saturday's 2-1 walk-off loss, Bailey gave up just one run on three hits over eight stellar innings of a no-decision.

"Homer pitched great [Saturday night]," Reds manager Dusty Baker said after the game. "He got out of trouble at the end there. He reached back and got some more."

Friday will mark Bailey's third start this season against the Astros (42-95), who dropped the rubber game against the Pirates in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. He hurled seven scoreless innings on July 25, but was denied a win due to a blown save. On Friday, he will try to notch his first win since Aug. 10.

Like Bailey, Harrell also pitched well on Saturday, giving up just a run on seven hits over seven innings. He has surrendered two or fewer runs in nine of his 10 last outings. The right-hander leads all Major League rookies with 165 1/3 innings pitched.

This series will also mark the Astros' last trip to Cincinnati as members of the NL. Interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said he's settled into his role and is ready to start winning.

"I think the attitude in the clubhouse has improved since I've been here, and we just have to try to go out and win ballgames," he said.

Astros: Wallace not an option at shortstop
• With injuries to Jed Lowrie and Marwin Gonzalez, the Astros are only carrying one true shortstop -- starter Tyler Greene -- despite an expanded roster.

DeFrancesco said Matt Downs and Jose Altuve could play shortstop in a late-game pinch, but Brett Wallace probably won't be an option. Wallace played 10 games at shortstop for DeFrancesco at Triple-A Oklahoma City.

"He's proven himself as an everyday first baseman, and we're excited about the way he's coming along and the consistency of his at-bats," DeFrancesco said.

Greene has started the last 13 games at shortstop for the Astros. Downs has only played one inning at shortstop this season, and has appeared in five games at the position in his career.

Lowrie will start a Minor League rehabilitation assignment at Double-A Corpus Christi sometime this week.

• Infielder Scott Moore left Wednesday's game with a left groin strain.

Reds: Votto produces in return
Joey Votto went 2-for-3 with a walk in his long-awaited return to the Reds' lineup on Wednesday. The 2010 NL MVP Award winner was sidelined for more than seven weeks with torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee.

Votto, hitting .346 with 14 home runs and 49 RBIs, singled to left-center field off Philadelphia's Roy Halladay in his first at-bat of the Reds' 6-2 loss. After walking in the fourth inning, Votto singled to center field in the sixth. He struck out on a full-count slider from left-hander Antonio Bastardo in the eighth.

"Joey was fine," Baker said after the game. "I think those rehab days really helped him. I asked him in the seventh -- I was thinking of taking him out at that point -- and he said he was feeling OK. That's [a] big [day] tomorrow, a day off for him and his legs. He'll be ready on Friday."

• Shortstop Didi Gregorius went 0-for-4 in his Major League debut on Wednesday.

Worth noting
• With Wednesday's loss, the Reds finished 3-4 against the Phillies this year. They have not won a season series against Philadelphia since 2003.

• Jay Bruce tied a career best by homering in his fourth straight game on Wednesday. He's 10-for-21 over his last six games, with five home runs and 12 RBIs.

"I'm just trying to do the best I can, honestly," Bruce said. "I try not to think too much about it or look into it too deeply. It's one of those things that hopefully I can help the team win here down the stretch and get to the postseason."

• In four career games (three starts) against the Reds, Harrell is 0-1 with a 3.80 ERA. Comments