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5/18/2014 2:21 P.M. ET

Bullpen hasn't been a strong point for Reds

PHILADELPHIA -- The Reds' bullpen has been one of the team's big strengths in the past couple of seasons. This season has been another story altogether. Cincinnati's relievers had a National League-worst 5.13 ERA entering Sunday's game.

A few reliever ERAs are particularly poor with Sean Marshall at 12.15 in eight appearances after giving up seven earned runs over his last three innings. J.J. Hoover has an 8.56 ERA through 15 appearances, while Logan Ondrusek has a 5.56 ERA in 12 games.

"There is somewhat of a snowball effect," manager Bryan Price said. "We started the season with phenomenal starting pitching, and so these guys weren't getting regular work. Then a couple of guys get off to a slow start, their numbers go through the roof and you're trying to pitch yourself from behind that eight-ball from a statistical standpoint.

"Guys are better than they've pitched. We've got to turn that corner and perform better. We have the ability for our bullpen to continue to be a strength for the club. We have to get better performance from all of our guys."

Reds option Barnhart; bench shorthanded

PHILADELPHIA -- The Reds activated lefty pitcher Tony Cingrani from the 15-day disabled list to start Sunday's game vs. the Phillies, as expected. To make room on the 25-man roster, catcher Tucker Barnhart was optioned to Triple-A Louisville.

But the move had ramifications for the team beyond the two affected players. The Reds' bench will now be shorthanded with only four players as the club awaits the return of injured first baseman Joey Votto.

"I think we'll inevitably have to make a decision on what we're capable of doing and exactly how much time we feel, organizationally, Joey will need to be ready to help us again," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "That time hasn't come yet."

Cincinnati still has Brayan Pena and Neftali Soto to back up Devin Mesoraco behind the plate. Both Pena and Soto are also sharing duties replacing Votto at first base. Soto started there both Saturday and Sunday. Pena will be there in Washington.

"Brayan will probably play first base two times and catch one," Price said. "Under different circumstances, he'd be playing first base [Saturday] and today, but we've got to see what Nefi can provide us against these left-handed starters.

"The thing about having Brayan in the lineup when he's playing first base is we have that opportunity, if we had to, to put him behind the plate and Nefi over at first. Or put [Todd] Frazier at first and [Ramon] Santiago at third. I don't feel like I'm in a bind at all. We basically still have three catchers on the roster, counting Nefi. I'm confident in a pinch that Neftali can go back there and catch and throw and call a reasonable game. He's working on it."

While the Reds still deliberate whether to put Votto on the DL because of a strained left quadriceps, they will not try to rush him back to playing. It's still not known if he will join the team for the next series vs. the Nationals.

"He's getting the soreness out. He's getting better," Price said. "It really is a day-to-day situation, but we'll get to that day where we say we either need that extra bench player or we don't. I really want a strong foundation for Joey to return feeling healthy and confident that he can play to his level instead of trying to manage a player at 50-60 percent ability. It's not fair to him and it's not fair to the team."

Over two stints with the Reds, Barnhart is batting .107 in 10 games, but he has impressed the club with his work behind the plate.

"Tucker has been great," Price said. "Tucker is going to Triple-A so he can play, and that's it. His time will come here at the Major League level with the Reds. He's a strong defender. Guys like throwing to him. He's a great competitor, a total pro. It's everything we preach here and want on this roster."

Soto gets another start at first with Votto out

PHILADELPHIA -- Neftali Soto found himself in the Reds' starting lineup at first base for the second game in a row on Sunday. Reds manager Bryan Price wanted Soto's right-handed bat against lefties Cole Hamels on Saturday and Cliff Lee on Sunday.

The Reds have a void at first base with Joey Votto out on a day-to-day basis with a strained left quadriceps.

"This is the opportunity to see what Neftali Soto can offer us," Price said. "For a guy that's had to sit on the bench for the first six weeks of the season with a couple of starts and pinch-hitting opportunities, this is what he's here to do -- hit left-handed pitching, get a couple of starts."

The start is only the fourth overall in 16 games this season for Soto, who has mostly pinch-hit this season. He was 1-for-3 with a single in Saturday's 12-1 Reds loss.

"I'm used to playing every day. I know what that means," Soto said. "I didn't know how to prepare for [the bench]. Sometimes, I pinch-hit and then I start. I come here thinking I'm going to play every day, even if it's just the eighth inning or starting. It doesn't matter."

Soto has had his path to the big leagues blocked with Votto entrenched at first base, and the club has tried to use him at third base and behind the plate as an emergency catcher.

The Reds don't know yet if Votto will need to go on the disabled list, or if it will be only a few days until he returns.

"I definitely need to take advantage of it," Soto said. "I know my role here. I understand it now. Hopefully Joey is back soon. We need his bat and his defense. He's a great player. But I'm going to do my best when I'm playing."

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.