The Reds know they're running out of time to make a run.
Following a 7-3 loss to the Rockies in the opener of a four-game set with Colorado at Coors Field on Thursday night, Cincinnati finds itself 6 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the National League Central standings and four games back in the chase for the second NL Wild Card spot.
"We can't continue to tread water for an extended period and expect to realistically challenge for either spot," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We have to make up some ground. Every series is important."
If there's anyone Cincinnati can turn to in desperate times, it's Johnny Cueto. The All-Star right-hander and reigning NL Player of the Week is 6-0 with a 2.23 ERA in his last seven starts. Over his last four starts, he's 4-0 with a 1.45 ERA.
On July 9, he beat the Rockies at Great American Ball Park, allowing two runs on five hits while walking one and fanning eight. He is 2-2 with a 3.63 ERA in six career starts against Colorado.
The Rockies will send left-hander Franklin Morales to the mound to oppose Cueto. Morales has gone back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen in 2014, beginning the season as a starter and being sent to the bullpen after struggling. He was later brought back into the rotation because of a deluge of injuries to starters on Colorado's staff.
Morales was solid in his last start, tossing six innings and allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits to earn a win at Arizona on Sunday.
"Frankie never gives in; it wasn't easy for him today," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said afterward.
Overall, Morales has posted a 5.15 ERA in 17 starts versus a 4.00 ERA in 10 relief appearances this season.
Reds: Bailey to the DL
Right-hander Homer Bailey is headed to the disabled list with a strained right flexor mass tendon near his forearm.
Bailey's last scheduled start was pushed back from Wednesday to Saturday because of elbow stiffness that arose after he swung a bat during his previous start, on Aug. 7 against the Indians. But when he played catch on Tuesday, it didn't feel any better.
He underwent an MRI on Wednesday that showed the strain.
"That's going to keep him out for a while," Price said on Thursday. "It's unspecific how long he'll be gone, but we certainly hope to have him back at some point in time during the year.
"It certainly means there will be a week of no throwing and then we'll reassess. He'll start to play catch. How quickly he bounces back will directly correlate with how quickly we get him back."
Though Cincinnati hasn't yet announced who will start on Saturday, there's a good chance it will be 29-year-old right-hander Dylan Axelrod, whose contract the Reds purchased from the White Sox on July 17. Since joining the Reds' Triple-A affiliate in Louisville, Axelrod has gone 2-1 with a 3.06 ERA in five starts.
Rockies: Cuddyer could be back Saturday
Michael Cuddyer could be back with the Rockies as soon as Saturday after completing a rehab assignment on Thursday night with Double-A Tulsa.
Cuddyer sustained a non-displaced fracture of his left shoulder socket on a diving play at third base on June 5.
Before playing at Tulsa, Cuddyer played in five rehab games with Colorado's rookie affiliate in Grand Junction, Colo. He went 11-for-19 with six doubles and nine RBIs. In three games for Tulsa, including Thursday's contest, Cuddyer went 2-for-11.
"[Friday] is going to be a travel day for him," Weiss said. "If everything goes OK, he has a chance to be in the starting lineup for us on Saturday."
With Carlos Gonzalez undergoing surgery on Monday, Cuddyer is expected to be in right field upon his return. Prior to the shoulder injury, Cuddyer was batting .317 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in 31 games.
• The Rockies have won 15 of their last 20 games against the Reds at Coors Field.
• D.J. LeMahieu is 5-for-8 (.625) in his career against Cueto.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.