CINCINNATI -- While it hasn't been needed as much recently, the Reds' bullpen has quietly become arguably the club's strongest facet.
Reds starters have stolen the headlines of late, and rightfully so. After an 11-game road trip that featured 10 quality starts and three complete games, the group leads the Major Leagues with seven complete games and ranked fourth in the National League with a 3.63 staff ERA, entering Sunday.
But when called upon, the Cincinnati bullpen has consistently gotten the job done.
As of Sunday, Reds relievers led the Major Leagues with 18 relief victories, and topped the NL with a 2.71 bullpen ERA and .215 opponents' batting average.
"Hopefully, our starters keep going six, seven, eight innings, but we need to be ready too to come in and execute in those situations," said Reds reliever Sam LeCure, who earned his third win of the season Friday night. "That's something we all want to do, to go out there and keep the other team at bay and give our offense a chance to come back and score a couple runs the next inning."
With the exception of lefty Bill Bray, who missed nearly two months of action nursing groin and back injuries, six of the seven Reds relievers have made appearances in at least 20 games this season.
In some instances, like Friday night's contest, the Reds needed five different arms from the bullpen to secure a win, consistently saving each other after pitching into jams.
"I'm a little more proud of games where I go out and pick up my teammates than just going out and doing well regularly," Bray said. "I have absolute confidence in our bullpen. We've been together for a while. Collectively as a 'pen, it's been a great year."
Through 87 games, the Reds are one of two ballclubs to have used just five starting pitchers all year -- a modern franchise record.
As the season progresses and the starters' arms fatigue, Cincinnati may slowly start seeing more and more from the bullpen.
"We understand we're going to be needed down the stretch. We've really got to be on top of our game. We really look forward to taking the ball, though."
Cueto's status for Tuesday being monitored
CINCINNATI -- The Reds are continuing to monitor the status of starter Johnny Cueto, who was ruled out of his Sunday start because of a blister on his right index finger.
Cueto is set to start Tuesday against the D-backs, swapping spots with Homer Bailey, who filled in for him Sunday against the Cardinals and worked eight innings in a 4-2 sweep-completing win.
Reds manager Dusty Baker said the club is "as confident as we can be on a Sunday" but will wait to see how his ace progresses.
"It just depends how quickly his body heals," Baker said. "Some guys, it looks like they can just grow skin overnight. It depends on how your body heals and how it regenerates itself."
Cueto also missed Sunday's throwing session to allow time for his finger to heal.
"If he doesn't have a throw day, how many throws can you have arm strength-wise?" Baker said. "It doesn't take your body very long to get out of tip-top shape. We certainly don't need him to go out there and not go very long and don't need to try to go out there and compensate and maybe end up hurting something else."
Through 87 games, the Reds are one of two ballclubs to have used just five starting pitchers all year.
Cueto's injury may put that streak in jeopardy. Baker said the club has not designed a backup plan as of Sunday.
"We're sure hoping [he can pitch], because if not, we don't know what our backup plan is yet," Baker said. "We haven't even discussed one. Right now, it's just a situation where we've just got to see where he is."
Cueto leads the Reds with 10 wins this season, boasting a 10-5 record through 18 starts with 2.39 ERA.
Votto's bat showing midseason fatigue
CINCINNATI -- When the Reds have needed to get their offense going, they've often turned to All-Star first baseman Joey Votto.
Votto ranks in the top 10 in the National League in nearly every statistical category, while leading the NL in doubles (36), walks (66), intentional walks (13), on-base percentage (.465) and extra-base hits (50).
But Votto's bat has cooled in recent weeks.
Calling it a slump may be a bit of a stretch, unless you're in Votto's world of multi-hit games and .300-plus batting averages.
Before going 2-for-3 with an RBI double in the Reds' 4-2 win over the Cardinals on Sunday night, Votto was hitting .224 with one home run and just three RBIs in his previous 17 games.
The knee injury Votto sustained in the team's final game in June raises some questions about his recent performance, but Reds' manager Dusty Baker said midseason exhaustion is getting to Votto more than anything.
"The knee has affected his running," Baker said. "I don't see the knee as much as I see some fatigue, which is usually around this time of year."
Votto went hitless in consecutive games Friday and Saturday for just the third time all season, and hasn't gone hitless in three straight games since September of last season
"They're throwing him a lot of junk," Baker said. "And sometimes you don't hit."
Baker also said the club will likely rest Votto in an upcoming game to help him regain his energy. Votto has played in 86 of the clubs 88 games, including Sunday's start.
Mark Clements is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.