After dropping their first four series after the All-Star break, the Reds will have a chance to snap the streak when they send Mike Leake to the hill on Sunday at Marlins Park.
And Leake would appear to be just the man for the job. The 26-year-old righty is 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA in two career starts against the Marlins, and he is coming off one of his best starts of the season. Leake was masterful against the D-backs on Tuesday, pitching 7 2/3 scoreless innings while walking none and striking out eight to earn the win.
For the Marlins, right-hander Jacob Turner will try to give Miami the four-game series split. He entered the season as a starter, but after going 4-5 with a 6.38 ERA in 48 innings spanning nine starts, Turner was moved to the bullpen to make room for Marlins pitching prospect Andrew Heaney. Turner spent almost an entire month as a member of the relief corps, putting up a 5.74 ERA and an 0-2 record in eight games, before being tabbed for a start on July 22 against the Braves.
Turner ended up making back-to-back starts and won both of them, stringing together consecutive wins for the first time in his career. Over those two starts, he threw 10 2/3 innings and allowed three earned runs. But just when he was getting into a groove, the Marlins traded for Jarred Cosart, meaning Turner would go back to the 'pen.
Manager Mike Redmond spoke to him before batting practice Friday to break the news, but less than two hours later, the manager had to go back to tell Turner he was returning to the rotation when Henderson Alvarez landed on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.
"It's an opportunity. Henderson's been our most consistent pitcher," Turner said. "As a rotation, everyone's going to have to do their part a little bit, and we're getting to the point where these are must-win games. It's crucial we go out and pitch deep into the games and give our team a chance to win."
Turner will have to be more efficient on Sunday after lasting just five innings in Atlanta and 5 2/3 in Houston. To go deep against the Reds, Turner will have to keep Billy Hamilton in check.
Coming into his rookie season, Hamilton's prowess as an offensive spark plug was well-documented, but few anticipated the production numbers he has provided thus far. Fifty-four runs and 42 steals have helped jumpstart a struggling Cincinnati offense, but his six homers and 41 RBIs from the leadoff spot have given opposing pitchers headaches as well.
"He's certainly our offensive catalyst. It's not just a matter of the probability of him scoring, but the excitement that he creates for our club," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We all realize that this is creating a better environment for our offense to flourish. The bigger distraction he is to the defense, the better chances we are going to be able get good pitches to hit and score runs."
Reds: Injuries, slumps have Price trying more lineups
It's not quite like a slot machine, but the combinations that have formed from Price's starting lineups this season have often seemed as plentiful.
On Saturday against the Marlins, the Reds fielded their 87th different lineup in 110 games -- not counting the pitcher's spot.
"It's an imperfect science, I can tell you that," Price said. "It's hard to say if it's the best way of doing it. It's just what to me makes the most sense."
For Price, he's had to try balance the consistency regular players crave with the stark realities. Several players have been injured this season -- including the current DL stints of Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. There have also been numerous offensive slumps and scoring trouble that has had Price searching for the right combination.
"It got to the point that now we have to match up because we haven't been a dynamic offensive club," Price said. "That kind of forces my hand somewhat that we have to do something to try to really kick up the offensive production. That's when I started taking more liberties with the roster to give everyone more of an opportunity to play."
Marlins: Shoulder not too bad, Alvarez eyes quick return
The Marlins' playoff hopes suffered a big blow on Friday when Alvarez landed on the 15-day DL with right shoulder inflammation. But Alvarez said Saturday at Marlins Park that he doesn't expect to be out longer the two weeks. An MRI exam showed the righty that the injury isn't serious, so he will begin throwing again in about six days.
He is eligible to come off the DL on Aug. 14, which is halfway through the Marlins' next homestand, and he plans to make a start during a four-game series against the D-backs in Miami.
"I'm doing the treatments and I feel better," Alvarez said. "I think I'm going to wait two weeks or something like that and try to come back in the series against Arizona. That's the most probable time. After that, I don't know. I'll just do my treatment, support the team and continue my routine."
• The Reds on Saturday claimed utility infielder Jake Elmore off waivers from the Athletics. To make room on the 40-man roster, reliever Nick Christiani was designated for assignment. Elmore, who was designated himself after the A's traded for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes on Thursday, was sent to Triple-A Louisville.
• Jordany Valdespin, whose contract was purchased by the Marlins on July 19, has been a nice addition to the Miami lineup. In 14 games, the second baseman has scored four runs and driven in six, and he has 13 hits in 45 at-bats for a .289 average.
"We brought him up to hopefully be a spark at the top of the order and get on base in front of our big boys, and he's certainly done that," Redmond said. "His at-bats have been good. He can do a lot of different things. He can bunt, hit and run. And he's gotten on base and gotten some big hits. That's what we need right now."
Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.