Cincinnati Reds’ Billy Hamilton, right, reacts after arguing balls and strikes with umpire Stu Scheurwater, left, in the second inning of a baseball game, Saturday, June 17, 2017, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Reds slumping at the top of the order

Going into the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, leadoff batter Billy Hamilton had three hits in his last 31 at bats while No. 2 batter Zack Cozart was hitless in his last 19 at bats – three shy of matching the longest hitless skids of his career.

Their combined slump was one of the primary reasons the Reds had been limited to three or fewer runs in their last four games and five during the seven-game losing streak that matched their longest of the season.

“It’s tough to get things going when me and Billy aren’t doing anything,” Cozart, who had seen his average slide from .350 on May 30 to .318 going into Saturday’s game, said after going 0-for-4 on Friday. “Both of us have to start getting on base for the guys in the middle of the order. When we were playing really well, it seemed like one of the two of us was always on base and let the other guys drive us in.”

Ironically, even as his average was sliding, Cozart climbed to the top of the list in voting for the starting shortstop for the National League team for the All-Star Game. Part of his problem at the plate, as is the case with most slumps, is bad luck. Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager barely had to move to snag the hard line drive Cozart smacked in his first at bat on Friday.

“The funny thing is I think I’ve been putting some good swings on the ball, but I’m not hitting it the way I want to,” said Cozart, who returned to the starting lineup on Friday after missing Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s games in San Diego with a sore right quad. “They’ve been pitching me tough. They’ve been making good pitches.”

Manager Bryan Price figured the slumps were temporary.

“They’ve been so good, really igniting the offense and being on base,” Price said. “Billy’s on-base, especially as a left-handed hitter, had gone well up over .335, .345, somewhere in that neighborhood, but what’s inherent with baseball is that you’re going to have periods of time where things don’t go your way, and I’m confident that both of those guys are going to regain their form.”

Another step: Left-hander Brandon Finnegan continues to make steady progress on his way back from the shoulder injury that has kept on the disabled list since April 16.

Finnegan on Friday threw 54 pitches in four innings of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos’ 9-3 win over Jacksonville that allowed them to clinch the Southern League South Division first-half championship. Price got a good report from Pensacola manager Pat Kelly.

“He liked what he saw,” Price said. “(He had) really good movement on his fastball, good changeup, lot of strikes. He’s progressing how we would like. He feels like it’s a second spring training, so there’s an ebb-and-flow with that. He’s feeling fine. As far as the velocity, he’s going to have that ebb-and-flow that you’re going to see in a rehab environment.”

Finnegan threw 35 pitches in three innings of his first rehab assignment last Sunday. Price expects him to go longer in his next outing, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday with Triple-A Louisville, two days after right-hander Homer Bailey starts for the Bats in his third rehab start. Bailey threw 76 pitches over six innings during his last outing with Dayton on Wednesday.

“We’ll have a better idea of the template on these guys once they get through their next outing,” Price said. “We’ll be able to make a relatively quick decision on Homer after his next outing. With (Finnegan), we got up to 54 pitches. We usually in that neighborhood of 15 to 20 added on, so he should be (around) 75 mark in five innings (in Louisville).”

Short stay: Right-handers Bronson Arroyo (3-5, 7.01 earned-run average) is Cincinnati’s scheduled starter in the Sunday’s 1:10 p.m. finale of the three-game series against Los Angeles and the three-game home stand. Arroyo is 0-3 over his last seven starts. Right-hander Kenta Maeda (4-3, 4.95) is due to start for the Dodgers.

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