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07/30/12 6:45 PM ET

Phillips doesn't miss a beat, back in Reds' lineup

CINCINNATI -- Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips was back in the lineup Monday after he left Sunday's game at Colorado in the fifth inning. Phillips had a cramp in his left calf.

"I'm good. I'm playing today," Phillips said.

The club did not think the injury was serious at the time, but it lifted Phillips as a precaution.

"It was what we thought it was," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It's easy to get cramps up there, especially if you're not drinking enough water, or if you're drinking alcohol, which Brandon doesn't drink at all. So you know it had to be him not drinking water."

Votto making 'subtle' strides toward return

CINCINNATI -- It was albeit a small step, but injured Reds first baseman Joey Votto's rehab from knee surgery went to the next level on Monday, when he began doing some baseball activity.

It wasn't much. Votto played catch and took some throws at first base. He had arthroscopic surgery July 17 to repair torn meniscus in his left knee. The 28-year-old cornerstone player has been doing rehab and running, but is not moving around at 100 percent yet.

"I feel like I'm making subtle improvements every day," Votto said. "If it was pain-free, I would be playing right now."

When exactly Votto might return remains murky as he and the Reds have not laid down an exact timetable. The club estimated after the operation that it would take three to four weeks to return. Votto is eligible for activation from the 15-day disabled list as soon as Tuesday. That clearly won't happen.

"I've done nothing but try to get back as soon as possible," Votto said. "It can be difficult sitting on the sidelines and watching the team play well or play poorly. Obviously, I think they'd like me to stay out another 10 games so they can have a 20-game win streak. It's difficult watching the games and not being able to play. I miss playing so I do everything I can to put myself in a position where I can play as soon as possible. Some things you just have to let go. This is one of those instances. I have to let my body do all the healing it can."

The 2010 National League MVP and the team's best hitter who is signed for the next 12 seasons, Votto is batting .342 with 14 home runs and 49 RBIs, and his 36 doubles, 66 walks and .465 on-base percentage were league bests entering Monday.

Ironically, the Reds have played their best baseball of the season while Votto has been out. They entered the night with a 10-game winning streak and are 11-2 since he went down.

Votto did not view it as though his teammates stepped up in his absence.

"They're playing to their capabilities," Votto said. "If they have a mindset that they need to fill in something while I'm gone, then it's a false approach, because this is a good enough team to win the division without me. Clearly they showed it with 10 straight wins. Obviously it's a small sample size. I think we've got an excellent team, regardless. We have very good defensive team. The pitching really seems as though they've grown. It's almost like the fans and us as teammates have watched a lot of the younger pitchers grow and improve over the course of the season."

Stubbs hasn't altered approach during hot stretch

CINCINNATI -- There have been some profound slumps for Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs, including a 0-for-32 stretch just before the All-Star break. As of Monday, Stubbs was in his hottest stretch of the season and came in batting .333 (16-for-48) with three home runs and 13 RBIs over his previous 13 games.

The difference?

"Not a single thing is different," Stubbs said. "That's the thing in this game, you have a lot of ups and downs and I worked just as hard when I was struggling as I have recently. That comes with sticking with your routine that's best for you and letting things play out."

Stubbs was named the National League's co-Player of the Week on Monday, sharing honors with Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez. Stubbs batted .370 last week with three homers and 10 RBIs to net the award for the first time in his career.

Chemistry a factor for Reds on trade front

CINCINNATI -- While the first-place Reds have been winning a lot lately and entered Monday tied with the Nationals for the best record in baseball, there's been a lot of trade rumors surrounding the club.

It's no secret that general manager Walt Jocketty has been trying to land upgrades at the leadoff spot and the bench, and he wouldn't mind improvements for the already strong pitching staff ahead of Tuesday's Trade Deadline.

Some players, including Ryan Ludwick, have recently talked about the team's chemistry being so good. Another player, Drew Stubbs -- who could be displaced if the potential leadoff acquisition is a center fielder -- also felt the current chemistry was strong and could be affected by a deal.

"Looking at what we've done so far this year, it's hard to argue with the success we've had," Stubbs said. "I don't think a move is necessary unless you're going to make a significant improvement to the team. ... I feel like so many people this time of year in a playoff race feel like you should make a move just to make a move. I don't think that's necessary for us, especially with the chemistry we have and the way everybody has been playing lately."

Reds manager Dusty Baker is kept in the loop about potential deals, but he doesn't have the last word, calling himself the "shop foreman." Baker hoped that if a trade was made before the 4 p.m. ET Deadline, that it didn't upset the balance in the clubhouse.

"That's why you're very careful," Baker said. "People don't understand about making deals or making trades is that you could end up getting rid of some guys that are an integral part of what you've got going on right now. Or bring in somebody that's not on the same page that we are, which could be a bad apple that ruins your basket. It takes a while."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.