Much like his Reds, Homer Bailey has had an up-and-down season so far but has come on strong as of late.
Cincinnati has won five straight and 14 out of the last 19 to take a significant-sized chunk out of the Brewers' lead in the National League Central, and meanwhile, Bailey seems to be finding his form. Over his last two starts, the right-hander has posted a 0.53 ERA (one earned run in 17 innings pitched).
Bailey will look to keep himself and his ballclub hot as the Reds host the Cubs in the series finale of a five-game set at Great American Ball Park on Thursday afternoon. Cincinnati has given Chicago fits over the past two seasons, having won 23 of 31 meetings and seeking a fifth win in four days against the Cubs on Thursday.
Bailey is 8-3 with a 4.32 ERA in 15 career starts against Chicago, but before dropping a 7-3 decision at Wrigley Field on June 24, he had gone 7-0 with a 3.08 ERA in his previous 10 starts against the Cubs, all Reds wins.
After tossing a complete-game shutout against the Giants in San Francisco on June 29, Bailey followed with eight strong innings against the Brewers last Saturday, absorbing a tough-luck loss as Cincinnati could only manage two hits against Matt Garza.
"I have a lot of faith in our offense and they've been supporting me all year," Bailey said after that outing. "Is it frustrating? Of course it is. But that's just the way the game goes sometimes. There's not really a whole lot I can do about it."
Since that loss, Cincinnati's offense has been humming to the tune of a .316 team batting average and 5.4 runs per game.
The Cubs have been on the other end of that offensive surge by the Reds, and they'll send a rookie starter to the mound for the third consecutive day, trying to snap a season-high six-game losing streak.
In the wake of the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A's, the Cubs sent Tsuyoshi Wada to the hill in the second game of the doubleheader on Tuesday, then Dallas Beeler on Wednesday, and will give the ball to right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who will make his Major League debut, on Thursday.
In 17 starts for Triple-A Iowa, Hendricks went 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA, striking out 97 in 102 2/3 innings. He was Chicago's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013 after being acquired in the trade that sent Ryan Dempster to the Rangers in 2012.
Hendricks has developed his four-seam fastball and it's become an effective pitch for him.
"I usually throw mostly two-seams, but with [Iowa pitching coach Bruce Walton] down there, I've been focusing on my four seams to throw with more velocity to guys and it keeps them even more off balance on both sides of the plate," Hendricks said. "It's been a real key for me this year and I'm going to stick with it."
Cubs: The future is now for several Minor Leaguers
With Wada making a start in the second half of Tuesday's doubleheader and both Beeler and Hendricks filling the vacated rotation spots of Samardzija and Hammel this week, the future is now for many Cubs' prospects.
"For them, [the trade] seems to open up opportunities to get to the big leagues," manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday. "They're excited. Fortunately for us, we have a very well-stocked Minor League system. ... Time soon enough will open the door for a lot of those kids."
Add to the list second baseman Arismendy Alcantara, who made his Major League debut for the Cubs on Wednesday against the Reds as Chicago put Darwin Barney on the paternity list. Alcantara went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. The 22-year-old posted a .307/.353/.537 line at Triple-A Iowa, with 25 doubles, 11 triples, 10 home runs and 41 RBIs in 89 games.
"There are a lot of players down there [at Triple-A Iowa]," Hendricks said. "That lineup we had, it made it real easy as a pitcher. You might give up one or two in the first, but if you keep your team in the game, they're going to score you some runs."
Reds: Bench coming through in absence of Votto
With the Reds putting first baseman Joey Votto back on the disabled list with a left distal quad strain, manager Bryan Price has had to rely on his bench to fill some big shoes. And with a doubleheader against the Cubs on Tuesday, the need for significant bench production was even greater. Cincinnati's reserves stepped up.
In the first game of the doubleheader, Chris Heisey went 3-for-3, scored a run and made two great defensive plays in left field. Ramon Santiago played third base in the second game, going 3-for-4. Santiago was 1-for-3 with a double on Wednesday. And Skip Schumaker is batting .319 since June 15.
"The teams that I've been on that have won have always had strong benches," Schumaker said. "Guys are going to get hurt, that's the nature of the game. With the platoon situation we have in the outfield, there are a lot of guys that could be playing every day that aren't and you haven't heard a peep out of any one of them. And that's just the sign of a good team. That's when you know you're winning, and everyone's on the same page, and that's a good feeling."
• Hendricks will be the third Cubs starting pitcher to make his big league debut in the span of 13 days. Beeler made his debut on June 28 and Wada made his against the Reds on Tuesday night.
Hendricks' start on Wednesday would mark the first time Chicago has had three starters make their debuts in a 13-day span or less since 1948. That year, Bob Rush (April 22), Cliff Chambers (April 24) and Dutch McCall (April 27) all made their debuts in a six-day period.
• Anthony Rizzo is 6-for-16 (.375) with a double, homer and six walks against Bailey. Nate Schierholtz has also had success against the right-hander, batting .400 (8-for-20) with two doubles and a homer against him.
• Reds relievers have posted a 1.77 ERA (four earned runs in 20 1/3 innings pitched) so far this month and haven't allowed a run since July 1, a span of 18 innings.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.