CIN@PIT: Votto crushes his first homer of 2013

CINCINNATI -- It's not often that a player who reaches bases in more than half of his plate appearances is viewed by some as struggling, but most players don't hit like Joey Votto. The Reds first baseman entered Thursday batting .277 with one homer, three RBIs and 14 strikeouts. But helped by a Major League leading 22 walks, he carried a league-best .521 on-base percentage and has reached in every game in which he's played.

While the Reds banged out 15 hits in Wednesday's 11-2 win over the Phillies, Votto was the only starter to go hitless. He was 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch.

"Joey did what I used to do. If we get 18 hits, I'd get none. Always. Then we'd get six hits and I'd get four," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It's hard to explain."

Through 15 games last season, Votto was batting .269 with one homer, eight RBIs, 14 walks, 16 strikeouts and a .418 on-base percentage. In May last season, he batted .355 with six homers.

Baker was not concerned about Votto.

"Everybody is going to have their turn. Joey is going to have his turn," Baker said. "Water seeks its own level. We just feel fortunate we have Brandon [Phillips] and some other guys playing well in that middle spot."

Cozart is thriving in the two-hole

PHI@CIN: Cozart smacks a two-run homer in the fifth

CINCINNATI -- Sometimes it's hard to find the catalyst for a hot streak, and sometimes it's remarkably easy. Reds shortstop Zack Cozart falls into the latter category.

Cozart has taken off at the plate since returning to the second spot in the lineup. In that spot, he entered Thursday batting .385 (10-for-26) with two home runs in six games. He had hit safely in four of his last five, with a pair of three-hit games -- including during Wednesday's 11-2 thumping of the Phillies.

"I'm just familiar with it," Cozart said of the two-hole. "Any time you're hitting in front of Joey [Votto], you're going to get better pitches to hit, too. They don't want to put me on and have him coming up."

While he was slotted as the No. 7 hitter, Cozart batted .097 (3-for-31) with two homers in eight games.

"I'm glad to see him get going because he was starting to press," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

Last season, Cozart didn't have his fourth homer until May 21. He also batted .324 in his 27 games as the No. 2 hitter.

"I guess a lot of people didn't realize I hit well in the two-hole last year," Cozart said. "So far, so good this year. Hopefully I can keep it going."

Freeman heads back to Louisville

CINCINNATI -- To make room for the callup of starting pitcher Tony Cingrani on Thursday, the Reds optioned reliever Justin Freeman to Triple-A Louisville.

Freeman was called up on Monday for the first time in his career when ace Johnny Cueto went on the disabled list with a strained right lat muscle.

During the Reds' 11-2 win over the Phillies, Freeman made his Major League debut and gave up two runs in the eighth inning. Freddy Galvis' jumped a first pitch for a two-run home run.

"I'm glad we got him into the game last night. I hate to have a kid come up here and go right back without pitching," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He learned something. He thought with the score at 11-0 that the guy was just going to take one. He learned the hard way. It was a good lesson for him."

Mesoraco gets nod in Cingrani's starting debut

CINCINNATI -- For Tony Cingrani's first big league start on Thursday vs. the Marlins, Devin Mesoraco started behind the plate the second straight day. For much of last season, Mesoraco would catch back-to-back days and be off three straight days while primary catcher Ryan Hanigan started.

So far this season, Mesoraco has mostly caught when Mike Leake pitched. While Cingrani is around in place of injured ace Johnny Cueto, could the old system be returning? Manager Dusty Baker would not say.

"Ideally, I'd like the catcher that can help us that night," Baker said on Thursday. "I don't like either one of them off two days or three days. Ideally, we'd like a [Cardinals All-Star] Yadier Molina. That's what you'd like. That's why he's the best there is in the game. You'd like an offensive catcher that can shut down the running game and block balls in the dirt. Who knows? We might still have that but we've got what we've got right now."

Mesoraco was 2-for-4 with two doubles on Wednesday and came in batting .267. Hanigan has gotten off to a slow start, batting .086 (3-for-35) in 11 games. Last week, Hanigan took a foul ball off of his left thumb, which Baker thinks might be affecting him.

"It's a good thing for him to be off two days," Baker said. "That's a tough injury when you hurt your thumb and you're catching with your left hand. You get balls running on you, sinking on you and you can't catch every ball perfectly. He's injured but not hurt. I talked to him about how to handle it offensively. I had three hand operations. It's tough when you're hands hurt. It's something you take for granted."