Kolten Wong's uneven season is trending upward at just the right time for the Milwaukee Brewers, who continue a four-game series against the host Cincinnati Reds on Friday.
Milwaukee had just four hits in the series opener on Thursday, but three of them were homers from Wong. He carried the offense with five RBIs in the Brewers' 5-1 victory.
With the win, the Brewers (80-70) remained 2 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies (82-67) for the third and final National League wild-card berth.
Milwaukee has won 11 of its first 16 meetings against Cincinnati (59-91) this season.
Wong entered Thursday's action hitting .212 for the month, but the second baseman is 8-for-20 (.400) in his past five games.
"Obviously it hasn't been the season that I'd hoped for, but I've been constantly grinding away and getting back to what I know I can do," Wong said after his first career three-homer game. "I'm glad it showed up in a win."
Wong has a career-high 15 home runs for the Brewers, whose rotation will receive a boost this weekend with the anticipated returns of Eric Lauer and Freddy Peralta.
Milwaukee has been without Peralta since he left his start against the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 8 due to right shoulder fatigue. Manager Craig Counsell said the right-hander could get the start on Sunday.
The Brewers are expected to send Lauer (10-7, 3.91 ERA) to the mound on Friday, while the Reds will turn to left-hander Mike Minor (4-12, 6.06).
Lauer, 27, is set to return from the injured list to make his first start since Sept. 7. The left-hander departed the outing against the Colorado Rockies after 2 2/3 innings with a left elbow strain.
The Ohio native avoided a minor league rehab stint and was encouraged after throwing a pair of bullpen sessions. He could be on a pitch count in his first outing in two weeks.
"I'm hoping to just go out there and treat it like a normal start," Lauer said. "Even if there is a limit, I prefer for them not to tell me just because you can have it in your mind that, 'I'm this far, I've got to push,' or you try to do too much because you know you have less time."
Lauer is 3-4 with a 4.01 ERA in 10 career starts (nine games) vs. Cincinnati, including 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two outings this season.
The Reds are hoping for a bounce-back effort from Minor, who allowed five runs over three innings in a 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday.
The rough outing included five walks, matching a career high that Minor only previously reached in two separate 2012 starts.
"It's tough on everybody else, but there is nothing I could do about it," Minor said. "I'm obviously trying to throw at least 100 pitches out there and get through six (innings), but if you can't throw strikes, it's tough to get guys out."
Hunter Renfroe has one hit (a homer) in 14 at-bats against the 34-year-old veteran, who is 4-3 with a 2.65 ERA in eight career starts vs. Milwaukee. The Brewers beat Minor on June 19, when he yielded four runs on six hits in six innings.
Cincinnati, which has lost 11 of its past 14 games, welcomed center fielder Mike Siani to the lineup on Thursday. The 23-year-old went 0-for-3 while batting eighth in his major league debut.
--Field Level Media