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8/4/2014 6:53 P.M. ET

Price: Hoover's role may be reason for struggles

CLEVELAND -- Since proving himself both capable and reliable over his first two seasons, reliever J.J. Hoover's lingering struggles have remained as perplexing as they are frustrating for the Reds this season.

Through 39 appearances, Hoover has a 5.55 ERA and given up nine home runs. The right-hander had compiled a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the previous two seasons and allowed only eight long balls over a combined 96 2/3 innings.

Hoover's hard luck has stuck around in spite of the fact that he claims career-best marks in strikeouts per nine innings (10.54) and a 28.8 percent ground-ball rate that is not far off from last year's 30.8 percent. The difference, Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said, may have to do with how the 26-year-old has been used lately.

"There's been periods of time where he just hasn't pitched a great deal," Price said on Monday. "The role has changed. He's pitching more in those middle innings or extra-inning opportunities where he's pitching more two-inning or one-plus outings. The stuff's still real good.

"I think one of the real differences this year also, because he was scuffling a bit earlier, is he's really kind of become a four-pitch pitcher. And we're still trying to define if that's a good thing or a bad thing right now."

Specifically, Price mentioned Hoover using his slider more, as opposed to merely relying on his fastball and curveball. Hoover has also struggled executing some of his pitches early in the count, with opposing hitters batting .248 with four homers and seven doubles through 0-1 counts this season.

"We've really focused on trying to get him down in the zone early where he's been vulnerable to some of those early count elevation mistakes," Price said. "The deeper he goes, the better chances he has of getting the hitter out.

"He's been emotionally strong, but as far as taking the ball every day with the expectation he's going to go out and dominate the game, I'm sure that that's been challenged at times over the course of the year."

Reds hope breakout game serves as springboard

CLEVELAND -- After a rough beginning to their second half, the Reds are hoping Sunday's breakout at the plate can provide a spark for the scuffling offense.

In the absence of former National League MVP Joey Votto, who remains on the disabled list with a distal quad strain in his left knee, the Cincinnati lineup has batted a collective .206 since the All-Star break, including a .191 average with runners in scoring position.

Against the Marlins on Sunday, the Reds pushed across seven runs on 15 hits, four of which came from Todd Frazier. The All-Star third baseman is 6-for-13 in three August games after hitting at a .245 clip with a .284 on-base percentage in July.

"We came back [in the second half] and we just struggled," Frazier said. "Now we've got to look at the positives. We won three of the last four against a really good Marlins team, and you just got to keep going from there. Knowing the year we had so far, and we're only 4 1/2 games out [of the National League Central]. That's impressive to me."

The club has also begun to see a resurgence from outfielder Jay Bruce, who went 2-for-5 on Sunday and recorded a couple of key opposite-field hits during the Marlins' series.

"That's what I work on," Bruce said. "I have been flying open a little too early, my front side. It's not my goal to hit ground balls to left-center, but to stay to the big part of the field, to stay in the middle. When the opportunity's there to take a late pitch that way, hopefully it works.

"When I'm going well, I'm staying on my back side, really utilizing my legs, that's what happens."

With Frazier and Bruce among several Reds who are beginning to regain their offensive rhythm, manager Bryan Price believes his club -- which has pitched consistently for much of the season -- can again vault itself toward the top of the division standings.

"I don't know what happened in those four days off," Price said, "but we kind of lost our feel and approach and mojo. Looks like it's heading back in the right direction now."

Worth noting

• With the first half of this week's four-game series with the Indians at Progressive Field, Jack Hannahan assumed designated hitter duties for the Reds on Monday. After missing the entire first half due to offseason shoulder surgery, the former Tribe infielder is 0-for-9 in four games since being activated from the disabled list late last month.

"He has to stay integrated with what we're doing," Price said. "If he's going to pinch-hit once or twice a week, it's going to be real hard for him to stay on top of his swing coming off of his injuries. … These are the opportunities."

• Second baseman Brandon Phillips, who is recovering from July left thumb surgery, remains limited to fielding grounders, throwing and conditioning workouts. He has not begun to take swings of any sort.

• Left-hander Tony Cingrani (shoulder strain) recently resumed his throwing program and did not experience any discomfort. The pitcher was placed on the Triple-A Louisville disabled list in late June.

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