PIT@CIN: Votto hits a two-run home run

CHICAGO --- The theme of this series -- and for that matter, the season -- has been the Reds' collective health. Cincinnati stumbled out of the gate to a 3-8 start due at least in part to a rash of injuries sustained in Spring Training. The Reds opened the season with eight players on the disabled list, most in the Majors.

The infirmary known as Paul Lessard's training room has already discharged a couple of patients. Catcher Devin Mesoraco returned from an oblique injury on April 7 and has been on fire, hitting .483 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. Left-hander Sean Marshall was activated Saturday after dealing with a sore left shoulder most of Spring Training.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who has the good fortune of starting all 17 games this season, said he thinks getting healthy is the key to going on a sustained run.

"I think health," Votto said. "As a team, I think it's important for us to have all the most important pieces and we've obviously missed out on a lot of our guys. We have a lot of talent on this team. We've got 25 really talented guys, and I'm not just saying that. I really genuinely feel like we're a really sharp team.

"Once we get all the guys on the field and our bullpen's working like it should, having all those really cool pieces that we have out of the bullpen gives us a chance to really be competitive."

Having Marshall back returns one of the Reds' key late-inning relievers. The other, closer Aroldis Chapman, remains on the shelf. Chapman has been cleared to pitch live batting practice and pitcher's fielding practice after taking a line drive to the face March 19.

"Those guys are really tough on not just left-handed hitters, but hitters in general," Votto said of Marshall and Chapman. "And those guys have a track record of success. That's the reason we signed Aroldis and traded for Sean. They're both studs."

The Reds are also missing infielder Jack Hannahan (shoulder), starter Mat Latos (right elbow and left knee), righty Brett Marshall (right middle finger), outfielder Skip Schumaker (left shoulder) and reliever Trevor Bell (right elbow).

Sean Marshall echoed Votto's comment regarding the Reds getting healthy and making a run.

"That's the key to most successful teams is having guys healthy all year," Marshall said. "We started off, several guys on the DL. A lot of guys are on the mend, they're on their way back.

"I think Latos had his hiccup with his elbow so that set him back a couple weeks. But once we get him healthy too, we'll have the full pitching staff intact, we'll get Skip back and we'll be back in full force."

Ludwick close to 100 percent after bruising toe

CIN@STL: Ludwick lifts a sac fly to left

CHICAGO --- Reds outfielder Ryan Ludwick was back in the starting lineup Sunday after missing Saturday's game with a bruised left big toe. Ludwick fouled a pitch off his foot in his first at-bat of Friday's game and was replaced in left by Roger Bernadina in the bottom of the eighth.

Reds manager Bryan Price said the bruise was "pretty painful" for about 24 hours but that Ludwick was available as a pinch-hitter Saturday. Price said Ludwick is good enough to play after showing he was capable of playing the outfield without restriction and that the team is confident he'll be "pretty close to 100 percent today."

"I think it might be full speed but a little tender," Price said. "I think if we felt like he was restricted in his ability to defend -- my concern isn't his hitting, it's his outfield play. And you don't want to give up anything in the outfield when you've got a couple other guys, healthy outfielders, on the bench.

"Just want to make sure that he's able to go out there and sprint and cut and do all the things that he needs to do to play good defense because I don't think he feels at all that it's going to affect his hitting."

Worth noting

• Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips have made 798 starts together, the most for any tandem on the right side of the infield in franchise history and the second-most among active players behind the Phillies' Ryan Howard and Chase Utley (958).

Prior to moving to the second spot of the order on April 12, Votto had made 635 consecutive starts in the three-hole.

• Votto, Phillips and Jay Bruce are all closing in on 11th on the Reds' all-time home run list. Wally Post is 11th with 172 long balls, Bruce is 12th with 166 while Phillips and Votto are tied for 13th with 161.