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CHC@MIA: Samardzija fans eight over six strong frames

The Reds look to continue their recent dominance at Wrigley Field as they open a three-game series against the Cubs on Monday night behind Alfredo Simon. The right-hander is tied for the National League lead in wins (10) and is a perfect 4-0 in June with a 3.38 ERA.

Simon has been very good against the Cubs -- who Cincinnati has defeated in 17 of its last 19 games at Wrigley Field -- posting a 2.38 ERA in 12 career appearances (two starts). He's beaten the Cubs in both starts he's made against them this season, allowing two earned runs in 12 innings pitched.

"To see him out there consistently [pitching] six, seven, eight innings and giving us a chance to win -- and not only that, but we're winning those games, there's something to be said about that," Reds manager Bryan Price said after Simon's last start, in which he tossed 6 1/3 innings and gave up three runs on five hits against the Pirates on Wednesday.

Chicago is scheduled to send ace Jeff Samardzija to the hill against Cincinnati. The right-hander -- who reportedly rejected an $85 million, five-year extension offer from the Cubs, prompting speculation that he may be dealt before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline -- enjoyed a tremendous start to his season, entering June with a 1.68 ERA.

But so far this month hasn't been kind to him. In four starts, he's gone 1-2 with a 5.73 ERA -- due mostly to his outing on June 1 in which he allowed eight runs in three innings to the Brewers. He pitched well in his last outing, though. He didn't allow an earned run in six innings in a no-decision against the Marlins in Miami on Tuesday.

"I go out and pitch and keep doing my job and keep making improvements," Samardzija said after that outing. "I really like how the ball has been coming out the last couple times. ... You pitch deeper in the games, and you have a better chance to win the game."

Despite having struggled against the Reds in his career (1-5 with a 4.54 ERA in 23 career appearances, including nine starts), Samardzija has a 2.84 ERA (four earned runs in 12 2/3 innings) in two starts against Cincinnati this season.

Reds: Votto, Frazier lead hot bats into Chicago
The Reds have been on a roll at the plate recently, and it's due in large part to the health of some of their most important run producers, including Joey Votto, who missed 23 games earlier in the season with a left quad injury.

The Reds are averaging 5.9 runs per game and batting .284 as a team over their last 13 games. Votto has been a big part of the surge, hitting .319 with five doubles and nine RBIs in 12 games since returning from the disabled list.

"It's nice to not have to think I have to be creative [with the lineup]," Price said on Sunday. "It's nice that we're getting consistent performances from our guys, and I think guys are comfortable where they are. We're not having to mix and match as much."

Another big reason the Reds have been producing offensively is Todd Frazier, who has settled into the No. 2 spot in the batting order behind Billy Hamilton and is thriving there. In 22 games in which he's hit second in the lineup, Frazier is batting .278 with eight home runs and 18 RBIs.

"He's hit very well in the two-spot, but [former Reds manager Dusty Baker] put him in there last year and it was a little bit of a hit-and-miss proposition," Price said. "I think Todd is a better hitter this year. I think his approach has improved and he's continued to develop."

Cubs: Valbuena has been an on-base machine
Third baseman Luis Valbuena entered Sunday's series finale against the Pirates with a .330/.395/.527 line since May 13, giving Cubs manager Rick Renteria flexibility with the lineup, particularly after Emilio Bonifacio went on the disabled list with a strained right oblique last Friday.

Valbuena has hit leadoff in five of the last six games with Bonifacio out of the lineup.

"He's been very valuable," Renteria said Sunday. "I think the last couple years that he's been here, even last year when he split time, he did a nice job. I think he's had opportunities to show that he can get on base. Obviously, he's had some big hits for us, but it's big because you get a line started and you keep it moving, so to speak. He's been able to get on base or drive in runs or get one by swinging the bat."

Worth noting
• Frazier, Hamilton and catcher Devin Mesoraco have had success in their careers against Samardzija. Frazier is 7-for-22 (.318) with a double and two homers, Hamilton is 4-for-7 (.571) with a double and a homer, and Mesoraco is 6-for-11 (.545) with a homer against the right-hander.

• Valbuena and second baseman Darwin Barney have hit well against Simon in their careers. Valbuena is 3-for-5 (.600) with a double, a homer and three RBIs. Barney is 3-for-8 (.375). Comments