CINCINNATI -- With Hall of Fame Weekend finally here, eyes all across the baseball world will turn to Cincinnati as former Red great Barry Larkin takes his place in Cooperstown.
Larkin spent his entire 19-year career with the Reds, posting a career .295 batting average with 12 All-Star selections, three Gold Glove Awards and nine Silver Slugger Awards.
While much of Cincinnati relished the days Larkin suited up for the Reds, current skipper Dusty Baker -- who managed against Larkin several times in his career -- recalled the days he faced the soon-to-be Hall of Famer.
"Playing against him, he was always a guy that was under control," Baker said. "He was always a guy that appeared that the game was slower for him than it was for most -- even though he played it at a high speed. That's one thing that you try to teach to young players. That's the thing about Barry -- from a very young age, he belonged here."
Larkin will be enshrined along with the late Cubs third baseman Ron Santo in this weekend's ceremonies.
But even more valuable than Larkin's numbers on the field was his impact off of it.
Larkin won both the Roberto Clemente Award and Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in his career, two honors based on character, rather than performance.
"We all have heroes, and we hope that heroes don't disappoint you, and that's what Barry Larkin has done on and off the field," Baker said. "He's a very intelligent man, very well-spoken man. I don't think you could have a better representative going into the Hall of Fame for the Cincinnati Reds than Barry Larkin."
Bruce shows signs of ending slump
CINCINNATI -- There often isn't a reason, but at some point in the season, nearly every player runs into a hitting slump.
Jay Bruce was in the midst of one, though if his output on Friday is any indicator, it could be coming to an end. Bruce went 2-for-3 with a double and his 19th home run in the Reds' 3-1 over Milwaukee.
Bruce earned a spot on the National League All-Star team earlier this month, but hadn't had much good news since.
The Reds' right fielder had slowly watched his batting average decline throughout the past month, dropping from .262 to .244 in less than three weeks.
"It's killing him," said Reds manager Dusty Baker before Friday's game. "I can see it all over his face."
Bruce, who was hitting .151 in July entering Friday, has recorded just five hits since the All-Star break, with the two extra-base knocks and a walk on Friday representing a good chunk of his second-half output.
Baker gave Bruce a day off Tuesday against Arizona, hoping an rebound would come when he returned to the lineup.
"Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't," Baker said. "I had nothing to lose by giving him [a game] off. He's been struggling, and he definitely needed it."
With Joey Votto and his hot bat out for the next month, the Reds will need Bruce's left-handed presence in the lineup.
With most clubs hindering Bruce's efforts by employing a drastic shift in the infield, Baker said Bruce needs to start knocking opposite-field hits to get back on track.
"The one thing you'd like to see him [do] is start to [use the] opposite field and march your way back," Baker said. "There's a lot more hits to the opposite field than the pull side. Look at most of the guys hitting high for an average, [they] are straightaway or opposite-field hitters. That's something that Jay can do, but he has to get to the point of trusting himself that he can do it."
The Reds need Bruce's bat now more than ever, and Baker gave a voice of confidence Friday, saying a slump can end just as quickly as it began.
"Maybe he'll get a cheap one here or there, and that's how it usually starts," Baker said. "Then all the pressure seems to just [fall] off your shoulders."
Phillips stepping up play in Votto's absence
CINCINNATI -- With Joey Votto out of the lineup for the next month, the Reds are not only searching for new bats to fill Votto's void in the lineup, but also new leaders to step up in the clubhouse.
One potential candidate to fill both roles is second baseman Brandon Phillips.
Phillips, who's well-known for being vocal off the field, already has the credentials to be the outspoken leader in the clubhouse, but his recent play on the field may speak louder than any tweet could.
"Hopefully, we have some other guys that step up and have big days, or Brandon can continue to have big days until somebody steps up," said manager Dusty Baker. "I tell everybody, don't try to do any more than they're capable of doing, because then that's counterproductive. Just concentrate a little more in every department about being very fundamental, being better putting the ball in play, being better in what you're good at."
Phillips has moved into Votto's normal home, batting third in the lineup -- and with much success.
In the four games since Votto went down, Phillips has hit .333 with five hits and six RBIs. With much of the club searching for an answer in Votto's absence, Baker said the best thing Phillips can do is "just be himself."
"Brandon is Brandon. People are at their best when they can be themselves. You don't really appoint a leader. A leader just leads."
Mark Clements is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.