ST. LOUIS -- The left knee that was surgically repaired twice this summer has yet to betray Reds first baseman Joey Votto. At the same time, it hasn't given Votto the full ability to be the complete offensive nightmare he can be for opposing pitchers.

"I feel OK. I'm frustrated at times because I can't perform how I would like to," Votto said before batting practice on Monday. "That's part of the gig after a surgery like this. I would say at some point I will turn the corner, but I'm not sure if that will be this year. Until that point, I'm just playing everything by ear and doing the best I can and trying to make the most out of every situation."

Votto missed 48 games on the disabled list to have torn meniscus cartilage removed from his knee in mid-July. He entered the night having reached base in all 22 games he's played since his Sept. 5 return and came in batting .343 (23-for-67) with seven RBIs during that period of time.

But there have been no home runs since coming off of the DL, yet. Votto has driven the ball to the deepest parts of some ballparks but has fallen just short of clearing the fence.

"It's funny. That small percentage of power, it changes the way my swing comes through the zone and the power I produce," Votto said. "It's hard to explain how something small becomes glaring when you're dealing with the best in the world. You're dealing with guys who don't give in and don't take a breath.

"When I was in the Minor Leagues, I realized how fast the game is here and how you're being attacked constantly. If you're not at your best, your holes get exposed automatically."

Votto will likely fall more than a few at-bats shy of qualifying for the batting title, but he came in hitting .342 with 14 homers, 56 RBIs, 43 doubles and an astounding .477 on-base percentage over 463 plate appearances before Monday's game.

Pitchers are still showing plenty of respect for Votto's bat, as he has walked 25 times with an even more astounding .527 on-base percentage since returning to the lineup.

"I've tried to accentuate one of the things I can do -- put the ball in play and be a tough out," Votto said. "It's not easy, but it's how I've tried to change my game right now."

Phillips back in lineup after precautionary exit

ST. LOUIS -- One day after he was pulled from Sunday's game at Pittsburgh with some mild tightness in his groin, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips was back starting Monday vs. the Cardinals.

Phillips exited in the fifth inning of a 4-3 Reds win Sunday as a precaution. Two innings earlier, he had slipped on loose dirt while rounding second base.

"I feel all right," Phillips said Monday. "If I feel it again taking ground balls or something, I'd probably say something about it. I think it was the wet conditions yesterday. They wanted to be safe with the postseason coming up."

In Monday's 4-2 loss, Phillips slipped again, in the third, and was again removed for precautionary reasons in the eighth.

"I felt like I could play the whole game," he said after Monday's loss. "It's just something I felt at the time. There's something about that turn going to the left. I'm OK. It's something I feel every once in a while. I told everybody I'm good and they have nothing to worry about. I will be ready to perform."

Worth noting

• Sunday's win over the Pirates was the 96th of the season for the Reds, which marked the 10th time in the franchise's history that total was reached. It was the first time since 1999. The club has won 97 games seven times, most recently in 1976, when Cincinnati was 102-60.