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07/25/12 8:25 PM ET

Baker sees Stubbs' potential as leading man

HOUSTON -- Despite Drew Stubbs' struggles at the plate in 2012, Reds manager Dusty Baker still considers the center fielder a potential leadoff man if he can cut down on his strikeouts and continue to hit balls hard.

"He's still learning, more than anything, about how to be consistent," Baker said of Stubbs, who hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's 4-2 win over the Astros. "His upside is still great."

Stubbs has batted first 14 times and batted second 52 times this season. In the leadoff spot, Stubbs is batting .158/.226/.175 in 57 at-bats. In the two-hole, Stubbs is batting .250/.322/.447 in 208 at-bats.

During this series against the Astros, Baker decided to bat Stubbs second in the order behind shortstop Zack Cozart in all three games. Baker said that combination isn't the optimal order, but with Joey Votto out of the lineup, Stubbs' running ability can be an asset in the two-spot.

Baker worries that sending Stubbs from first base with Votto at the plate will allow pitchers to pitch around the first baseman. The manager considers Stubbs, who had 19 stolen bases heading into Wednesday, a top-five baserunner in the league.

"That's why it'd be better if Stubby could bat leadoff," Baker said.

The Reds have been more aggressive on the basepaths since Votto left the lineup. In 88 games with Votto, the Reds stole 43 bases and were caught stealing 14 times. In nine games without him, they've stolen nine bases and been caught stealing three times.

Entering Wednesday, the Reds had stolen at least one base in four consecutive games, accumulating seven steals over that stretch. Until Tuesday, the Reds hadn't stolen at least one base in four consecutive games this season.

Phillips out of starting lineup to stay fresh

HOUSTON -- Second baseman Brandon Phillips didn't start for Wednesday's series finale against the Astros. Phillips had started every game for the Reds since June 28.

Manager Dusty Baker, who started Wilson Valdez at second base in the No. 7 spot, said resting Phillips is part of an attempt to get all of his regular players a day off before heading into a stretch of 17 games in 17 days, which starts after Thursday's off-day on Friday in Colorado.

"Like I've said before, just trying to keep all our guys strong and keep all our guys fresh," Baker said.

Scott Rolen, Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs didn't start on Sunday. Jay Bruce didn't start on Monday. Ryan Ludwick and Chris Heisey didn't start on Tuesday.

Baker will try to find another day off for his more regular players during the upcoming 17-game stretch. After that, Baker plans to field something close to his best lineup each day as the season winds down.

Phillips has been hot in the last 13 games, batting .434 with two homers and 11 RBIs. His .298 batting average heading into Wednesday's game is the highest it's been this season. He's started in 89 of the Reds' first 98 games.

Worth noting

• The injury reports that come across manager Dusty Baker's desk indicate that first baseman Joey Votto is progressing well after undergoing surgery to repair the torn medial meniscus in his left knee on July 16.

"Knowing Joey, he's working," Baker said. "With his body type and the way he takes care of himself, I anticipate him to be a faster healer than most. He's already in tip-top shape, which helps prior to an operation."

There is no new timetable on when Votto might return to the lineup. The Reds originally expected him back two to three weeks from Tuesday.

• The Reds' bullpen was nearly back to full strength for Wednesday's game. Baker said he didn't anticipate using reliever Sam LeCure, though. The right-hander threw 36 pitches in Monday's game.

Clark Goble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.