The Reds are set to add another weapon to their arsenal as they chase the Cardinals and Pirates for the top spot in the National League Central.
Monday's series opener against the Astros at Minute Maid Park marks the expected return of Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto, who has been on the disabled list for the last two and a half months. Out with a strained lat for the third time this season, Cueto hasn't pitched in a game since lasting just one inning against the Rangers on June 28.
However, the Reds hope the 27-year-old right-hander can return to form after his extended layoff, and help the club for the final two weeks of the regular season and a potential postseason run.
Cueto threw 60 pitches of live batting practice Wednesday and came out of it with no issues. Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said there will be a pitch count for Cueto on Monday, but he didn't specify the number, as the Reds look to see how much they can expect from their ace the rest of the way.
"He appears relatively ready from what I've seen," Baker said. "We'll see what we can get out of him. It's worth a try, it's worth the effort, because he's Johnny Cueto. The more we get out of him tomorrow, the more we get out of him the next time, and who knows where he's going to be ready come playoff time?"
With 12 games left to play, the Reds sit 3 1/2 games behind the Pirates and Cardinals, who are tied for first place. Depending on how effective Cueto proves to be, he could play a major role in the NL Central race, along with some of his teammates also returning from injury.
"That gives us a tremendous boost, much like what [outfielder Ryan] Ludwick gave us," Baker said. "And there's a chance we could get [reliever Sean] Marshall back. We're just trying to get our troops back together, being lined up."
Cueto and the Reds are set to square of against the former division-rival Astros, who own the worst record in baseball at 51-98. Houston manager Bo Porter doesn't want his players to play like a team well out of the race, though, especially as the Astros prepare to finish the season with 13 games against teams in contention.
Houston can expect a playoff-like mentality from its opponents, and Porter hopes his players can match that.
"We want to send our best lineup out there every day," Porter said. "I think that's actually a good thing for us, and I've said this to our ballclub, that we're playing teams that are in playoff contention. I think it's good for our players to look to the other side of the field and see the type of intensity that those teams and their fans are going to bring to the ballpark with a playoff berth hanging in the balance."
Astros: Bedard set to return to rotation
After making four straight appearances out of the bullpen, veteran left-hander Erik Bedard is ready to take the mound again as a starter.
Bedard was dropped from the rotation following an Aug. 21 start against the Rangers in which he gave up two earned runs on five hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings. Since then, Bedard has made four appearances out of the bullpen, giving up five runs in 10 1/3 innings.
Bedard has a 3-9 record with a 4.65 ERA as a starter this season.
"It's going to be fun," Bedard said. "Just to get back in the rotation and do what I've done the last 10 years is fun. Hopefully it ends up on a high note."
• Unable to take his usual spot behind home plate for almost two weeks because of a knee injury, Jason Castro said Sunday he wasn't sure if he'll be able catch again this season.
"It's something I won't know until it happens," said Castro, who hit in the cage and did some light running on Saturday. "I'm not really concerned about it structurally. Everything is fine. From that aspect of it, I'm not concerned, but it's tough because it's a wait-and-see approach, and there's nothing more I can do other than listen to what it's telling me and how it feels."
Reds: Club sets rotation for Houston series
With Cueto returning Monday, the Reds were able to set their rotation for the rest of this week's series against the Astros.
Mike Leake and Greg Reynolds will follow Cueto in the last two games. Leake has been in the rotation all season, but Reynolds will make just his fourth start of the year. In the previous three -- two of which were in place of Tony Cingrani, who left his last start with back spasms -- Reynolds went 1-2 with a 4.74 ERA.
But Baker is not sure if this rotation will remain the same beyond the Astros series.
"We plan for the future, but it's always subject to change," Baker said. "The way this game is, the way life is, you learn from yesterday, but you live for today and you try to plan the best you can for tomorrow. And things can change. That's how it is. We'll see where we are."
• This week marks the first time the Astros will face the Reds as part of the American League. With both teams in the NL Central last season, Cincinnati went 10-5 in the season series.
• The Astros' 839 games against the Reds marks the most played against any opponent in club history. Houston is seeking its 400th win against Cincinnati.