CINCINNATI -- The Reds appear willing to take every precaution with shortstop Zack Cozart, who is out with a strained left oblique muscle.
Drew Stubbs, who suffered an oblique strain in June, missed 20 days. As they near the stretch, the club hopes Cozart won't be out that long. But it won't rush him back, either.
"You have to be careful with that. It's in that minor pulled state right now," Reds manager Dusty Baker said on Sunday. "But if we don't take care of that oblique, he could be out a month or six weeks, and then what? We won't have him at all for the playoffs, probably."
One added wrinkle is that all Reds Minor League affiliates' seasons are over, leaving no place for Cozart to go for a rehab assignment. Originally, the club thought he had a middle back injury, until an MRI taken on Friday confirmed the oblique injury.
"We have to treat this one very, very carefully, because it didn't start out like that," Baker said.
Ludwick gets a much-needed day off
CINCINNATI -- Reds left fielder Ryan Ludwick is still getting his hits, but he's not piling up the home runs quite like he did in July and August.
Manager Dusty Baker senses that Ludwick is tiring some. He has not hit a homer since Aug. 18. Ludwick was given a pre-planned day off on Sunday, and Xavier Paul started in his place.
"You know it's needed when they don't argue with you," Baker said. "Or they respect your judgment and opinion."
In the 16 games since Aug. 18, Ludwick is batting .276 (16-for-58). Only one of his hits has been for extra bases, however.
"I think I've been a little bit tired at times," Ludwick said. "But who isn't tired at this stage of the game? I'm grinding. I think a lot of people worried because I heard a couple of comments, 'You're not hitting home runs.' Well, they come in bunches. It's tough when you're that locked in. I'm still getting my hits. ... I'm just not hitting home runs."
Overall, Ludwick entered Sunday batting .274 with 25 homers and 74 RBIs. He had 14 of his homers and 38 RBIs over July and August.
"When you start hitting home runs, everybody wants you to keep hitting home runs," Ludwick said. "I'm just trying to get on base and continue to help the team win. Hopefully, the home runs come in bunches again soon, going into the postseason."
Baker indicated that Todd Frazier will be getting a day off soon, too. Frazier has reached base safely in 30-straight games entering Sunday. But he was batting .208 (10-for-48) in his last 16 games, hadn't notched an RBI since Aug. 28, and hadn't homered since Aug. 21.
"He's played a lot, and I can see his bat slowing down a little bit," Baker said. "There will come a time, if Scotty [Rolen] is not here, I might put somebody else over there to give him some time off. They're starting to pitch him a little differently, too. Word gets around. They have meetings just like we have them."
Mesoraco waiting for next chance
CINCINNATI -- Until playing two innings on Sunday, Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco hadn't so much as sniffed the batter's box since his return to the Majors on Sept. 2.
The success of newer backup catcher Dioner Navarro is partially responsible for Mesoraco being idle. Navarro is batting .290, but had hits in five of his last six games.
"What do you expect [Mesoraco] to say? 'The other guy is playing pretty good,'" Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Mesoraco was the top prospect who spent all season in the Majors until getting demoted to Triple-A Louisville for 10 days. He's struggled to hit all year and lost his spot, as he batted .210 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in 52 games while catching two out of every five games prior to his demotion.
After he served a two-game suspension for making contact with an umpire during an argument, the Reds sent Mesoraco down on Aug. 23.
"I wouldn't say shocking," Mesoraco said of the move. "I hadn't been playing great. I especially could see that. I went down, tried to work on some things and get better. I'm trying to get my swing back to where I want it to be. I don't feel like it's been good all year."
Mesoraco, who was 3-for-18 in five games for Louisville, struck out in his lone plate appearance for the Reds in the eighth inning of Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Astros. He wasn't thinking about whether he would be part of the potential postseason roster.
"We'll see. I'm here trying to help out any way I can, get better any way I can," Mesoraco said. "Whatever happens, happens.
"It's not like I've completely changed as a player. I'm still the player most people think I can be and I was at one time. It's not like it's been 10 years that's changed me. It's been 200 at-bats, maybe. Whenever I get a chance again, I will show that I am the same player."
Jay Bruce's blast on Saturday was his career-high 33rd home run of the season.
Bruce had 21 homers as a rookie in 2008, 22 in 2009, 25 in 2010 and 32 last season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first player in Major League history to hit 20 homers as a rookie and improve on that total in each of the next four seasons.
Only five other players have done that at any point in their careers: Hack Wilson (1926-30), Willie Stargell (1967-71), Jim Thome (1998-2002), Derrek Lee (2001-05) and David Ortiz (2002-06).