CINCINNATI -- Reds shortstop Zack Cozart was out of the lineup a second straight game Wednesday. Manager Dusty Baker revealed that Cozart has been bothered by a stiff back.
September callup Didi Gregorius made his Major League debut in Cozart's place, going 0-for-4 in the Reds' 6-2 loss to the Phillies. He also made a sensational play in shallow left field to rob Juan Pierre of a hit.
"That's everybody's dream," Gregorius said of his debut. "Everybody has to be happy when you get the first callup."
A 22-year-old from Curacao, Gregorius was a Spring Training sensation defensively and left a large impression with his glove and range before returning to the Minors. He started the year at Double-A Pensacola and was promoted to Triple-A Louisville on July 10.
"I've only seen him in Spring Training, and what I've heard -- I heard he can pick it pretty good," Baker said. "You hope you see the same thing you saw in Spring Training."
Getting to be part of big league camp was beneficial for Gregorius, who first joined the organization in 2007.
"At Spring Training, I learned a lot," he said. "They taught me a lot about how they play and how I have to play the game. I talked to them a lot and saw how everything is."
Gregorius, a left-handed hitter, is still working to make his bat catch up to his glove. He batted .265 with seven home runs and 54 RBIs in 129 combined Minor League games, but only .243 in 48 games for Louisville.
"He was hitting real good at Double-A. He and [Henry] Rodriguez, they hit fair in Triple-A," Baker said.
Votto wastes no time getting back to business
CINCINNATI -- Joey Votto certainly didn't look like he had missed 50 games when he played Wednesday for the first time since being sidelined with a left knee injury.
The Reds first baseman was 2-for-3 with two singles, a walk and a strikeout in a 6-2 loss to the Phillies.
"Having Joey back is great," right fielder Jay Bruce said. "He picked up where he left off. He looked great to me,"
Votto, the 2010 National League MVP Award winner who had two arthroscopic surgeries to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee, was in the Reds' lineup for the first time since July 15. An appreciative crowd of 19,267 cheered loudly when he took the field to warm up pregame.
Fans followed with a standing ovation as Votto stepped into the batter's box for his first plate appearance.
"I was very humbled by it and very appreciative any time I get support like that," Votto said. "They exceeded my expectations."
Votto didn't exactly get an easy return, as he had to face Phillies ace Roy Halladay.
"I can't believe it worked that he was my first game back -- thank you, baseball gods," Votto joked, despite coming in with a .375 average lifetime vs. Halladay.
In his first at-bat in the bottom of the first inning, Votto lined a two-out single to left field. After walking in the fourth, Votto sent a single into center field with one out in the sixth.
"Joey was fine," manager Dusty Baker said. "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."
Votto had a chance to try sliding into second base when he made an attempt to break up a double play. It was sliding that originally caused his injury, as well as the August setback that required a second operation.
"I was a little apprehensive. I did go in gingerly," Votto said. "I have had a few slides that have given me trouble. I have to get over that, and I will at some point."
In the eighth inning with one out, Halladay was replaced by lefty Antonio Bastardo -- specifically to face Votto. On a 3-2 slider, Votto went down looking at a called third strike.
Overall, the knee passed its first Major League game test. Votto played five games on a rehab assignment in the Minors.
"It held up pretty well until Bastardo buckled it," Votto joked. "I had no problems at all. If we had a game tomorrow, I would be more than happy to play.
"I had all that energy and fire inside of me that I had to sit on for that extended period of time. I wanted to get out there. I didn't really have a problem with giving away at-bats before, but that time off really hit home that you don't know what's going to happen next. That's reason enough not to take anything for granted and get after it."
Phillips slides back to leadoff spot with Votto back
CINCINNATI -- First baseman Joey Votto was back in the Reds' lineup for Wednesday's series finale vs. the Phillies, as manager Dusty Baker indicated would be the case a day earlier. It marked Votto's first game since July 15, when he went down with torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee.
The return of Votto meant some musical chairs for the Reds' lineup. Most notably, second baseman Brandon Phillips was moved back to the leadoff spot after he had kept Votto's third spot in the order warm. Baker expected there to be a readjustment for Phillips, who batted .313 with five homers and 21 RBIs over 40 games in the three-hole.
"It's really no big deal," Baker said of the switch. "They talk about [our] MVPs -- it could be [Jay] Bruce, [Aroldis] Chapman, [Todd] Frazier -- but Brandon is one of the unsung MVPs. He's the only guy I have here that can hit all over the lineup and perform well. There aren't many guys around that can do that."
Phillips, who entered the day batting .296 with 15 homers and 71 RBIs, started the season leading off but was quickly moved to the cleanup spot by the middle of April when the Reds needed more run production. He took over the third spot when Votto got hurt.
"You hate to keep moving him all around," Baker said. "Our personnel is such where sometimes you don't have any choice. You want a set lineup. But we only have a couple of set lineup guys."
Phillips' production could boost a leadoff spot that has been woeful this season. Primarily occupied by Drew Stubbs or Zack Cozart, Reds leadoff hitters are batting .206 with a .248 on-base percentage this year.
Left-hander Cingrani enjoys rapid ascent to Majors
CINCINNATI -- Left-hander Tony Cingrani, called up Tuesday from Double-A Pensacola, demonstrated that not every prospect needs years in the Minors before a big league promotion.
At this time last year, the 23-year-old was wrapping up his first pro season at Rookie-level Billings in the Pioneer League. He was a little surprised to have received the call to join the Reds.
"It's my first full season. It's been a little unbelievable," Cingrani said. "I've been working. I guess it's paid off."
Cingrani was 10-4 with a 1.73 ERA in 26 games, including 25 starts, for Pensacola and Class A Advanced Bakersfield. His ERA was the second lowest among all Minor League pitchers with at least 100 innings.
A closer in his senior season at Rice University, Cingrani was a starting pitcher his first three years of college. He throws a fastball, slider and changeup, and he credited organizational coaches Mark Riggins and Tony Fossas with helping him develop the slider. This season, Cingrani credited Pensacola coach Tom Brown for some of his success.
"He's probably one of the best pitching coaches I've ever worked with," Cingrani said. "It's going after hitters and competing. That's basically it. I'm throwing my fastball for strikes and throwing my other pitches in there when I need to get them over."