When the Reds chased ace Adam Wainwright from this past Wednesday's 10-0 loss with nine runs in just two innings, rookie Michael Wacha stepped in to toss four scoreless innings of relief. The right-hander provided a lone bright spot, on an otherwise lost night, with seven strikeouts.
Cincinnati got after Wainwright again Monday, handing St. Louis a 7-2 loss, and the Cardinals will turn to Wacha again as they look to keep pace with the Pirates and fend off the Reds, who linger three games back of first place in the National League Central.
Wacha's impressive relief outing made manager Mike Matheny's decision on who to start Tuesday easy, opting for Wacha -- rated the Cardinals' No. 2 prospect by MLB.com -- over fellow rookies Carlos Martinez and Tyler Lyons, who also joined the team in Cincinnati on Monday.
"The way he threw the ball the other day -- it was not like we were doing tryout camp -- but he made it very obvious that he's the guy we want to see out there," Matheny said. "He looked great."
If Wacha pitches like he did Wednesday, he could find himself in the rotation through the rest of September, as veteran righty Jake Westbrook works his way back from a stint on the 15-day disabled list with lower back tightness.
The Reds will send Homer Bailey to the mound opposite Wacha on Tuesday. Bailey is coming off a rare strong start versus the Cardinals, a team he has historically struggled against. The righty is 4-9 with a 5.13 ERA in 16 career starts vs. the Redbirds.
Bailey tossed 7 1/3 shutout innings last Wednesday, limiting St. Louis to five hits and two walks while fanning seven.
"With that team, they could have put up three or four runs really quick," Bailey said after the game. "And then the next inning, put up two more. With them, you really have to get after them. They've got way too many good hitters to back off."
Reds: Hamilton joins big league club
Despite all the hype surrounding rookie outfielder Billy Hamilton, his first day on the Major League roster came and went without a debut.
With the Reds already in contention in the NL Central, Hamilton, who set a professional baseball record with 155 stolen bases in 2012, isn't being forced into a significant role.
"He's not the focal point here," said manager Dusty Baker. "The focal point is us to win the division and hopefully the World Series. We hope he could help us, in some small or large way, do that."
Hamilton should see time as a pinch-hitter and a pinch-runner, in the outfield as part of a double switch and could also get a spot start.
"It will take a game before it feels real," Hamilton said Monday. "It's feeling real just coming into the clubhouse with all these guys. When I get a game under my belt and just watch those guys, it will feel real."
Cardinals: Beltran, Molina dealing with minor injuries
Entering the second game of the series against the Reds, the Cardinals could be without two of their veteran All-Stars. Catcher Yadier Molina left Monday's game early with left wrist soreness and Carlos Beltran missed his second straight game with lower back tightness. Their status is unknown for Tuesday.
Molina, listed as day to day, has missed 24 games, matching his total from last season. Despite two weeks on the disabled list with a sprained right knee, he still entered Monday leading the NL with 928 innings caught.
Matheny said Beltran was available to pinch-hit Sunday and Monday, but the Cardinals are playing it safe with the 35-year-old right fielder.
"That's how we've done it all year," Matheny said. "Instead of trying to push him through, we've tried to pay attention to how he feels. That should pay dividends in the long run."
• If Hamilton does make an appearance this week against the Cardinals, Matheny said Molina, if healthy, is up to the challenge of containing the speedy rookie.
"We have all the confidence in the world that Yadi will throw out anybody he can," Matheny said. "He's doing his part, the pitchers are doing their part."
• In addition to Hamilton, the Reds also recalled Neftali Soto from Triple-A Louisville on Monday and activated catcher Corky Miller off the disabled list.
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.