CINCINNATI -- Reds shortstop Zack Cozart on Wednesday took major strides toward a return, swinging, fielding and running for the first time since last Tuesday, when he was left out of the Reds' lineup with a stiff back.
This past weekend, Cozart's injury was diagnosed as a left oblique strain. The rookie hasn't played since Sept. 3, but he hit off the tee, fielded ground balls, ran and stretched and said he felt "pretty good."
"It was nothing major, I just hit off the tee. There are still steps to be made, but it was a positive day," Cozart said. "Everything is feeling a lot better. We did a lot of stuff today, knowing we had the off-day [Thursday] for recovery."
Wilson Valdez and Didi Gregorius have filled in at short in Cozart's absence.
Cozart has played in 127 games this season and earned Rookie of the Year consideration with his work both in the field and at the plate. He said there is no timetable on his return and plans to assess how he feels Friday, when the team travels to Miami.
"It's been progress pretty much every day," he said. "I couldn't do a jog three days ago, and today I ran. I no doubt about it feel a lot better than I did a week ago and a lot better than I did two days ago.
"I can't really put a day on it, but hopefully sooner than later. Based on today, I would think sooner ... barring no setbacks, but I don't see that happening. It's night and day compared to a week ago."
Hoover earns first save in Chapman's absence
CINCINNATI -- With All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman shut down for a few days due to shoulder fatigue, the Reds are going to have to rely on some different arms to round out ballgames until the hard-throwing southpaw can return.
Another new face stepped into the limelight Wednesday in the Reds' 2-1 win against the Pirates as rookie J.J. Hoover chalked up the first save of his young career, in his first opportunity.
The Reds were shorthanded without Chapman, as well as Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall -- who were unavailable after pitching two consecutive nights -- and gave the 25-year-old righty a shot to prove himself.
"We knew he was going to be the closer when he started the night, because we knew what our bullpen situation was," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "J.J. Hoover was outstanding in the ninth. The guys I talked to, namely [Dioner] Navarro, who caught him [in the Minors], told me that the guy is not afraid of anything and he throws strikes."
Hoover faced four batters and gave up a two-out single before striking out Jose Tabata to earn the save.
"You don't want to get a runner on base, especially in a one-run game," said Hoover, who didn't know that he would be the closer Wednesday night. "I knew after they called on me they were trying to get the bullpen a little rest. I didn't want anyone else to get hot that didn't have to."
It's not Hoover's first rodeo, though. He started the season at Triple-A Louisville before being called up to Cincinnati in April. He rejoined the Reds in late August, but already feels at home in the big leagues.
"It's been great," Hoover said. "By the second week I was up here, it was like I was part of the team the whole time. It's a greater scale here, and the hitters are a lot better."
The Reds got their first glimpse of what the back end of games may look like in the immediate future the night before as Broxton, a longtime Dodgers closer, earned his first save as a Red in Cincinnati's 5-3 win over Pittsburgh.
"We knew there were going to come times that we were going to close with him," Baker said. "When we got him, especially when Aroldis goes a couple days in a row, we knew that was going to come up sooner or later. We didn't know that was going to come up like this, but we'll take it."
Broxton, who has chalked up 108 saves in his eight-year career, has been used mainly as an eighth-inning setup man since his move to Cincinnati.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound righty said he feels comfortable working in save situations, but he's ready to pitch at any point when called upon.
"It doesn't matter if I'm out there in the seventh, eighth, ninth or whatever," Broxton said. "They're all important outs, and at the end of the day, they're all victories. It's always nice to pitch in, do your part and go out there and try to compete on an everyday basis."
But Broxton isn't the only reliever Baker will turn to with Chapman resting. Broxton entered Wednesday having pitched two days in a row, and Baker said he will likely play the hitting matchups and give a number of different relievers opportunities.
"[Broxton] is the No. 1 candidate. But it's matchups, too," Baker said. "If they have three lefties, it could be Marshall. It could be Broxton, it could be [Jose] Arredondo, it could be Hoover. Broxton is the No. 1 choice. We try to limit Broxton to two days in a row, too."
Aside from Chapman, Marshall, Logan Ondrusek, Broxton, Arredondo and Sam LeCure have all seen action in save opportunities. Marshall has earned the second-most saves behind Chapman with nine.
Masset joins Reds, expects to be ready for 2013
CINCINNATI -- After a roller-coaster season of rehab, Reds reliever Nick Masset is hoping his current road to recovery is the final one.
Masset appeared to be close to a Reds return earlier in the season, making eight pain-free rehab appearances in the Minors. But the torn capsule in his right shoulder never properly recovered, and Masset eventually resorted to arthroscopic surgery Friday, performed by Dr. Tim Kremchek.
"Kremchek felt really good about the way the surgery went," Masset said. "He was real excited with the way it went and the way it looked in there. He feels really confident about me being able to rebound from this, which is exciting news."
Masset on Wednesday had his right arm in a bulky sling, which he has to wear for about four weeks. After that comes a four-month rehab program followed by two or three months of throwing.
The 28-year-old reliever said he seeked the advice of five different professionals, including "the best overhand shoulder guys in the country," before going through with surgery.
Masset plans to remain with the team throughout the rest of the season, performing his rehab and strengthening his arm, and he hopes to be ready for the start of the 2013 campaign.
"I'm going to stay here with the team the whole year and support them all the way through," Masset said. "We're hoping everything kind of stays on par with [the recovery]. We've got to take the right approach here and get it fixed and hopefully be ready to go for next year."
Mark Clements is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.