CHICAGO -- The projected return timetable for injured Reds first baseman Joey Votto remains uncertain, but he continues to make strides ... literally in this case.
Votto, who tore the medial meniscus in his left knee on June 29 and needed arthroscopic surgery on July 17 to repair it, is rehabbing on the road trip with the Reds and is now practicing slides.
"I know he was a little sore after sliding [Wednesday] and trying to get that muscle memory back as far as sliding," Reds manager Dusty Baker said prior to Thursday's game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. "He needed a little work on his sliding before he hurt it. We've been working on it."
Baker, who had plenty of experience with knee injuries as a player himself, said sliding is practically the last hurdle to clear for ballplayers coming back from surgeries like the one Votto had.
"That was probably the hardest obstacle to overcome was sliding and the fear of sliding, that you might get hurt again," Baker said. "That was the toughest [thing] for me, without a doubt."
The Reds have gone 16-7 since Votto left the lineup, which is impressive considering the star first baseman led the National League in doubles (36), walks (66), intentional walks (13), on-base percentage (.465) and extra-base hits (50) prior to leaving the lineup.
"He kind of tested it [Wednesday] and I guess decided not to [play against the Cubs], but we'll just continue to do what we've been doing," said Drew Stubbs, who's hit .313 with five home runs and 15 RBIs in 22 games without Votto in the lineup to help replace the lost offense. "When you're facing adversity, it's up to other guys to step up, and we've had that so far while he's been out. We just continue to get production from guys up and down the lineup."
Still, Baker is itching to get Votto's name back in the everyday lineup.
"We'd like to get him back here [pretty soon]," Baker said. "You can go without your star for a while, just like L.A. did with [Matt Kemp], but once you start facing tough pitching and you're facing a tough pitcher, he's your equalizer against the toughest pitchers around ... and we're about to face some tough pitching here pretty soon, so hopefully he'll be back right on time. Not that he's the savior, but I mean this guy ... he's your MVP and one of the best players in the game."
Rolen out of lineup, day to day with soreness
CHICAGO -- Scott Rolen walked gingerly into the Reds' visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon and went into the training room for treatment.
Some are speculating it's something with his back, but Reds manager Dusty Baker didn't get into specifics. Baker said Rolen is "sore," and the third baseman didn't start Thursday night's game against the Cubs, a day after sitting out the finale of a three-game series in Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Todd Frazier was inserted at third base, and Miguel Cairo was in Thursday's starting lineup at first base.
Catcher Devin Mesoraco officially came off the seven-day concussion disabled list on Thursday, but now the Reds will be short another player for at least one more day if not longer.
"He's a little sore," Baker said of Rolen, who went 2-for-5 with a run scored and a double in the first two games against the Brewers on this road trip. "[He's] day to day. This came up ... [Wednesday] night. You get one guy back and another guy goes down temporarily. We just have to do like we've been doing the whole time [dealing with injuries]."
Mesoraco returns from concussion a little wiser
CHICAGO -- Devin Mesoraco said the effects of the concussion he had after a collision at home plate on July 30 in San Diego have cleared, and he was ready to get back in the lineup.
The rookie Mesoraco, who started Thursday night and is expected to also start Friday against the Cubs, was placed on the seven-day disabled list for a concussion on Aug. 1 but felt better soon after his DL stint started.
"Definitely after two days I was pretty good," said Mesoraco, who officially returned to the team on Thursday, with Dioner Navarro being optioned back to Triple-A Louisville. "Playing back-to-back days is pretty nice. I'm just kind of excited. It gave me some time to think about things that maybe I can improve on and figure out where I want to go."
Mesoraco, who's also awaiting the hearing on an appeal of a three-game suspension, said this is the third concussion he's had as a player dating back to his time in the Minors and high school.
"I've had three [now], and that was kind of the main thing about why they wanted to hold me back," Mesoraco said. "They just didn't want something to happen again.
"I don't think this one was even as bad as the ones I had in the past."
Knowing that, Mesoraco said he wanted to keep playing. The decision, however, wasn't his to make.
"The way that things are now, you tell somebody [about it] and they're awfully concerned about you," Mesoraco said. "I wanted to stay in there and keep playing, but if something would've happened, you never know what the ramifications of getting hit again would've been. It was a good thing. I got a little break there, and now I'm ready to go."
As for the position he plays and the collisions it often entails, Mesoraco said he needs to use better judgment in the future about when to really take a big hit.
"You've got to protect yourself and kind of not put yourself in a bad situation," he said. "I think I can be a little smarter about it. I didn't even have the ball [in the Cameron Maybin collision], so it probably wasn't the best move on my part to absorb the hit there. In the future, not a whole lot's going to change, but I can just be a little bit smarter."
Mesoraco made his presence felt with a splendid catch in the sixth inning Thursday night, navigating a niche by the dugout in foul ground and reaching high to snag the ball and retire David DeJesus.
Reds trying to rediscover potent offense
CHICAGO -- Hoping it's just a blip on the radar during a 162-game schedule, the Cincinnati Reds are looking for their offense.
The Reds set a season high for consecutive defeat with five in a row after Thursday night's 5-3 loss to the Cubs. While being swept in a three-game series at Milwaukee, the Reds scored just six runs and went 1-for-14 (.071) with runners in scoring position, stranding 20 baserunners.
The woes continued in Thursday's game, in which the Reds went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left eight on base.
They are still playing without injured star first baseman Joey Votto, and veteran Scott Rolen is now being termed "day to day" with "soreness" according to Reds manager Dusty Baker.
Still, neither Baker nor his team see the stale offense as an issue just yet.
"You go through periods like that," Baker said. "Some of that is we had opportunities with runners in scoring position and didn't get the hit, some of that is who you have in the lineup to replace [injured regulars], and then there were two big games in there that were well-pitched games against us. That has everything to do with scoring runs, the kind of quality pitching you have against you."
Drew Stubbs, who went 1-for-9 in the Brewers series and 0-for-4 in the opener vs. the Cubs, agreed about the pitching the Reds have faced.
"I think you've got to credit the Brewers' pitching staff and what they did," Stubbs said. "They were very resilient and kept our runs to a minimum and put themselves in position to win the games. We've just got to keep at it. You just stick to your routine and what's got you here so far and let things work themselves out."
Brian Hedger is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.