STL@CIN: Phillips jokes around with Pena before game

LOS ANGELES -- Until All-Star Joey Votto went down with a left quadriceps strain on May 16, catcher Brayan Pena had only logged four games in the big leagues at first base. On Wednesday, Pena started there for the seventh time in his last nine games.

Not only is Pena learning a new position and staying on top of his normal spot behind the plate, he also took a five-game hitting streak into the series finale at Dodger Stadium, going 6-for-17 (.353) during the stretch. He's had no trouble handling everything that's come his way lately.

"I try to separate one thing from another," Pena said. "I've learned that the last four or five years behind home plate. It doesn't matter what you do offensively, you still have to call a good game and be that quarterback your team needs. With that mentality, it's not as hard for me to focus on first base and my hitting."

Pena has handled first base well and had yet to commit an error there.

"I feel better," Pena said. "I'm still working every day early with [coach] Freddie Benavides and getting a lot of information. I still have to learn the hitters. It's not the same as when you're behind home plate."

Said Reds manager Bryan Price: "I'm impressed by the way he's handled himself. He's such a team-first guy. That's part of his DNA. It's what allowed him to be such a good support player. ... He's playing it aggressively and constantly wanting to learn. He's always looking in the dugout making sure his positioning is where it needs to be. He's doing everything he can to be as good as he can be in a short amount of time."

Lutz makes most of season's first start

CIN@LAD: Lutz doubles to tally first hit of the year

LOS ANGELES -- In his first big league start of this season for the Reds, first baseman Donald Lutz had a pretty good Tuesday night by going 2-for-4 with a double and run scored.

What made the performance stand out a little more was that it came after he had been largely idle for several days, and he did it against Dodgers star Zack Greinke.

"It was fun," Lutz said on Wednesday. "It's exciting playing first base, too. I love playing over there. It was cool. I stayed fresh. A lot of my friends were like, 'Good luck tonight against Greinke. You haven't played in a week.' It was all good. You do your best to stay loose and ready for whenever they need you."

Lutz, who batted .360 at Double-A Pensacola, was recalled on Friday after only five games at Triple-A Louisville. But other than one late-inning appearance on that first night to play defense, he did not see any action.

With Joey Votto on the disabled list with a left quadriceps strain, the Reds have mostly been using Brayan Pena as his replacement. With three straight right-handed starting pitchers coming up in the next four-game series at Arizona, might manager Bryan Price start the lefty-hitting Lutz vs. the D-backs?

"I think he'll play. How much he'll play, I don't know exactly," Price said. "With Joey out, it does free up some opportunities and playing time at first base. I love what Brayan Pena brings to the club every day he's in the lineup. It's not like there is a glaring hole in our lineup where it's easy to stick Donald into that."

Reds susceptible to strikeouts of late

Ryan Ludwick reacts to striking out on Monday in L.A. (AP)

LOS ANGELES -- Entering play on Wednesday, the Reds had been one of the harder teams to strike out this season. They've struck out the third-fewest times in the National League, but you wouldn't know it lately.

In the past four games, Cincinnati's hitters have struck out 48 times compared to only seven walks. During Tuesday's 6-3 loss, they K'd 14 times with zero walks.

"We're facing good pitching, but we have enough talent to be more successful than we have been," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "I think we've definitely been in a down offensive cycle. My optimism for our offense and our team has been high and will remain high because we have guys who have been there and been successful."

Over the previous games -- all losses -- the Reds have encountered Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals and the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Greinke. There's not exactly a stiff in that particular group.

"One thing we haven't been able to do really is have one of those big innings that maybe knock out the starter and get into the bullpen," Price said.

Hitting coaches Don Long and Lee Tinsley have had the hitters trying to put themselves in better positions to succeed.

"They've been working on grinding out at-bats and living to see another pitch," Price said. "We've run into some tough pitching lately but we'll rebound."

Last season, the Reds were ranked 11th in strikeout totals in the NL.

Worth noting

• A scoring change has helped lower Reds pitcher Mike Leake's ERA. On May 19 vs. the Nationals a wild pitch was charged to Leake in the seventh inning that led to an earned run. After a review by Major League Baseball, the scoring was changed to a passed ball on catcher Devin Mesoraco, making that run unearned. Leake's ERA went from 2.92 to 2.79 as a result.