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8/11/2013 8:00 P.M. ET

Cincinnati needs Phillips' hot bat down stretch

CINCINNATI -- Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips has been on a hitting tear of late, which could be critical for his team as it tries to stay in the National League Central race.

Phillips entered Sunday with a four-game hitting streak and hits in seven of his last eight games. In those eight games, he was batting .344 (11-for-32) with two home runs and six RBIs. In the 45 games before that from June 7-July 30, he was hitting only .208 with three homers.

That stretch followed a four-game absence when Phillips was out with a left forearm contusion from being hit by a pitch against the Pirates on June 1. Reds manager Dusty Baker wasn't willing to say if the hit-by-pitch was behind the slump.

"I don't know if that was it or not," Baker said on Sunday. "That was it for a while. It wasn't it the whole time. Sometimes you go in and out of funks. It's hard to sustain for the whole year. You've got bad luck. You're not seeing the ball good. You get fatigued."

Phillips entered play with a .263 average and 14 home runs, while his 87 RBIs were second-most in the NL. His RBI single in the first inning of Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Padres underscored a reason why things might be going well.

In the at-bat against pitcher Tyson Ross, Phillips sharply lined his base hit to right field. That's exactly what Baker wants to see from his cleanup hitter.

"I was talking to him about pulling off the ball," Baker said. "Most of the time when you're not hitting, you're pulling off the ball. You can see his whole face on the other side of the field over there. If we're on the road, we can see his whole face on our side of the field versus down on the ball.

"It's easier said than done to correct. Most of the time when you're not going good, you've got a quick shoulder, a quick hip, which creates a quick head."

Robinson optioned to make room for Ludwick

CINCINNATI -- After Sunday's 3-2 Reds win in 13 innings over the Padres, outfielder Derrick Robinson was optioned to Triple-A Louisville and left fielder Ryan Ludwick was activated from the disabled list.

Robinson, who was 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter in the game, batted .254 in 84 games this season. He had been up since the second game of the season after Ludwick went on the DL when he tore the labrum in his right shoulder on Opening Day.

"That was a tough decision to send Robinson back," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "But he will be back in a couple of weeks and on our playoff roster. His shoulder was bothering him some and we gave him a couple of days off. He was the only one who had options. Sometimes, you can't make the moves that you want."

Robinson made 35 starts, including 28 in left field. The other reserve outfielder, Xavier Paul, isn't as good defensively than the speedy Robinson, but he was out of Minor League options.

Baker keeps keen eye on NL Central opponents

CINCINNATI -- Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Padres was another missed opportunity for the Reds to gain ground in the National League Central, as both the first-place Pirates and second-place Cardinals lost. The deficit behind Pittsburgh was six games, and it was two games behind St. Louis, which has dropped four in a row and 13 of 17.

Meanwhile, in the NL Wild Card race, the Reds came in with a 4 1/2-game lead for the second spot over the D-backs. The late summer is a time for scoreboard watching, which Reds manager Dusty Baker does all season long. But he's not looking back at Arizona and only looking forward to Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

"It's like Satchel Paige said, 'Don't look behind you, because someone might be gaining on you. What am I going to look backwards for?'" Baker said. "It's just like a wide receiver. You can tell the guys that can't run because they're angling towards the end zone and they're looking back to see who can catch them. A guy who can run, he just runs to cross that finish line.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't notice the scores. I notice scores all the time, especially teams we have to play; who's hot, who's not? I go home at night and watch baseball until I fall asleep, every night. I'm trying to pick up something or look and see how they're pitching these guys. That's my job. I like what I do. Contrary to popular belief, I am very alert and aware and try to stay ahead of the game and try to know what's going on all the time. It may not work, like last night. Sometimes it's not going to work."

In Saturday's loss, Baker sat third baseman Todd Frazier because he didn't like the matchup against Padres starting pitcher Tyson Ross. Frazier's replacement, Jack Hannahan, committed three errors and grounded into a double play.

Baker still remains optimistic about his team's chances in the playoff chase. His lineup will get Ryan Ludwick back from a lengthy shoulder injury on Monday, and reliever Jonathan Broxton successfully returned from the disabled list on Friday.

"For those of us who were panicking and coming down on this team, we're in pretty good shape," Baker said.

Worth noting

• Sunday marked the 52nd day the Reds have been in third place in the NL Central after they were in second place on June 20.

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.