09/15/12 6:45 PM ET
Votto working hard to return to All-Star form
By Christina De Nicola / Special to MLB.com
"I missed playing," Votto said. "I've got to get in the lineup and get as many at-bats as possible to be able to get my swing back in check and be able to work on my legs and the defensive and baserunning side."
A true test for Votto's knee came during the Reds' 14-inning victory over the Pirates on Monday. He played the entire game.
"He wants to play every day," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I wanted to take him out. He said, 'Hey, I'm fine.' If he says he's fine, nobody knows himself better than Joey. He's trying to find his masterful stroke."
The 29-year-old continues to look for it.
Since his return to the lineup on Sept. 4, Votto has reached base safely in 17 of his 35 plate appearances for a .280 average, nine walks and a hit by pitch in eight games. His season numbers stand at .337 with 37 doubles, 14 homers and 49 RBIs.
"I have missed a beat," Votto said. "It's been an adjustment coming back. Obviously, taking all that time off, there's small things you take for granted that you usually take care of in Spring Training, in the beginning of the season. Two months off is a long time, especially when you're laid up with something and building strength and flexibility in an important part of your body."
Bruce scuffling since Co-Player of the Week honor
MIAMI -- Since being named the National League Co-Player of the Week for his torrid stretch leading up to Sept. 9, Reds right fielder Jay Bruce has struggled at the plate.
Bruce is hitless in his last 17 at-bats and 2-for-21 with six strikeouts. He has just one extra-base hit, one RBI, one run and one walk in that span.
"No. 1, the other teams read that he's Player of the Week," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I think that's what nobody sees. They're going in pitching him tough saying, 'He's hot, don't let Jay beat you,' and that's what happens. It's not just Jay not doing something. Sometimes it's them not allowing Jay to do a whole bunch. They're not throwing a whole bunch of good pitches to hit. Jay has to be patient and accept the walks. They're not pitching to him."
Baker pointed to Friday night's game as a perfect example. In an at-bat against starter Jacob Turner, Bruce waited on a 3-0 pitch and got a changeup.
The 25-year-old, who last homered a week ago against Houston's Bud Norris, is third in the NL with 33 homers. During his stretch that led to the NL honor, he hit .500 (11-for-22) with a 1.227 slugging percentage, .542 on-base percentage, four homers and nine RBIs.
It marked the second this time season -- and fifth of his five big league seasons -- that Bruce earned Player of the Week honors.
"You have the ups and downs," Baker said. "If you just had ups all the time, guys would be hitting .400. It doesn't work like that, plus Jay's still young. Most guys his age haven't been here a year or two. He's still way ahead of schedule and pace."
Hanigan excelling with increased workload
MIAMI -- Ryan Hanigan has developed into one of the National League's top all-around catchers in 2012 with a greater workload.
In his sixth Major League season, Hanigan has surpassed his previous career high (91) in games played with 102. Over his past 24 games, he is hitting .343 with 12 walks.
"What it's done more than anything is increase his workload and his endurance," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Before I would say Ramon [Hernandez] was getting probably two-thirds of the work. Now, it's Hanigan's turn to get two-thirds of the work and somebody else to get one-third of the work. He would wear down before, and now he knows how to take care of himself. Not to say he wasn't doing that before, but I also know when to spot it."
Hanigan entered Saturday night's game with a 3.00 catcher's ERA -- the lowest among big league backstops -- this season. He has caught all 10 of the pitching staff's shutouts and five of the complete games.
"No. 1, he works at it," Baker said. "He studies a lot and he has a pretty good idea about what they can hit and what they can't hit and where our pitchers can throw or what they should throw in certain situations."
The 32-year-old has also thrown out 16 of the last 31 baserunners trying to steal for a 52 percent clip.
"[He] blocks balls in the dirt, shuts down the other team's running game most of the time, so we don't have to waste a pitchout on a ball," Baker said. "He works at it. This guy's a blue-collar catcher."
• Reds shortstop Zack Cozart took batting practice on Saturday for the first time since Sept. 3 when he left the game with a left oblique strain.
Christina De Nicola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.