CINCINNATI -- After Johnny Cueto and Sean Marshall threw successful bullpen sessions on Thursday, pitching coach Bryan Price said that both could be back in action this month, barring any setbacks.
Marshall would return to his role as a key left-hander in the bullpen, but Cueto's future is only becoming slightly clearer.
"I think initially it will probably be the bullpen," general manager Walt Jocketty said of Cueto's role when he returns. "I don't know if we're going to have time to lengthen him out, because there really isn't a club to send him to [so he can] go out and pitch. But we'll kind of play that by ear right now and just get him into a game at first. I think it will probably be in the bullpen, but we haven't made a final decision."
Cueto hasn't pitched in a game since he lasted just one inning against the Rangers on June 28 before leaving with the strained right lat that landed him on the disabled list for the third time this season. It's been even longer for Marshall, who has been on the DL since May 24 with a sprained throwing shoulder.
On a scale of 1-to-10, head trainer Paul Lessard rated Thursday's bullpens as an eight for Marshall, who threw 30 pitches, and close to a 10 for Cueto, who threw 40. Assuming they check out OK on Friday, both will throw another bullpen on Saturday before more decisions are made.
If the Reds can get Cueto to the point where he's stretched out enough, Price said there's no doubt they would welcome him back as a starter. If not, they'll be sure to get whatever they can out of a guy Price views as one of the best starters in baseabll.
"In any capacity, he can help us," Price said. "It would be nice to get him to the point where he is an option to start, but he also needs the work to be sharp. It's hard to ask a guy who missed three-quarters of the season to go win us a game and get us to the next round of the playoffs. We'll see. If he gets throwing in the next week competitive, who knows? Maybe we will have enough time to get him stretched out to start."
Arroyo wants to stay, but financials have to fall in place
CINCINNATI -- Bronson Arroyo is the longest-tenured player on the Reds' roster, and he has been keenly aware that his time with the team could be coming to a close sooner than later.
Arroyo, who was acquired by Cincinnati in a March 2006 trade with Boston for Wily Mo Pena, is in the final year of a three-year, $35 million contract. He would like to stay longer, perhaps much longer than the Reds can afford to keep him.
"I think it's going to take this organization wanting my services for the next two or three years," Arroyo said during an appearance on MLB.com's Edward Jones Chatting Cage. "There's obviously a limit to how long we can play this game, and we're all trying to maximize our opportunities as far as money. If it wasn't for the dollar bill, I know I would be in this uniform until the day I retire, because I know they enjoy what I do around here, and what I bring to the table on and off the field and inside the locker room. But at the end of the day, dollars and cents always weigh a little heavier than anything else in life, usually.
"If my price tag is a little bit too much or they feel like they don't want to give me more than a one-year deal here, then it's going to be very difficult, because it's probably going to be the last time I have an opportunity to go out and sign a multiyear deal with a ballclub."
Arroyo, 36, is 104-92 with a 4.04 ERA in 261 starts for the Reds over eight seasons. He has never missed a start because of injury, and he has pitched 200 or more innings for the club seven times. The one year he missed that mark, 2011, he threw 199 innings. This season he is 13-10 with a 3.62 ERA in 28 starts.
The success of rookie lefty Tony Cingrani this season in place of the injured Johnny Cueto has shown the Reds that they could have a much cheaper option for the rotation in 2014.
Arroyo made it clear that he would prefer to remain with the Reds until the end, but he isn't willing to accept a discount the way he did when he signed his last contract, or the one before that with the Red Sox.
"I love playing here," he said. "I would love to retire in this uniform, but if they only want to give me a one-year deal, and I'm going to be 37 years old ... You could get hit with a line drive in Spring Training and break your collarbone. My value in the game could go down, so you've got to take opportunities when you can. If there are other teams out there that are willing to give me a three-year deal, and I couldn't get that here, it's going to be very tough to stay."
Exercising caution, Baker sits Mesoraco
CINCINNATI -- Catcher Devin Mesoraco was behind the plate for 13 of Tony Cingrani's first 21 starts this season, making his absence from Thursday's lineup a noticeable one. It was also hard to ignore the fact that it was Corky Miller who took over at catcher in the 10th inning of Wednesday's loss before Mesoraco finally entered in the 13th.
On Thursday, Mesoraco revealed why.
"I got a little hamstring deal that I did out in Colorado," Mesoraco said. "It's not a bad thing at all. I think [manager Dusty Baker] at this point in the year doesn't want it to be something that lingers around. Just get it out of here and be done with it."
In Sunday's 7-4 loss to the Rockies, Mesoraco tweaked his left hamstring when he lunged for first base running out a ground ball.
"It definitely wasn't bad at all, but I felt it," he said.
Mesoraco had no trouble playing a complete game on Monday, but Ryan Hanigan started the next three games, including Thursday's finale against the Cardinals.
Baker tried to avoid using Mesoraco during Wednesday's 16-inning loss, especially on offense, "because if he runs first to home or first to third, then he could blow it out and be gone for a while."
Mesoraco ended up catching three innings and reached base in the 15th, but he could not move a runner to second base on a bunt.
As Mesoraco has proven, the injury is something he "absolutely" could play through, but Baker decided to err on the side of caution.
"I don't know he'll be all right by the end of the season," Baker said, "but I hope he's better."
Votto not interested in resting during slump
CINCINNATI -- In Wednesday's 16-inning marathon loss, first baseman Joey Votto had seven chances to break out of his recent slump. Instead he struck out three times, hit into three groundouts and lined out once, his struggles reaching a new low.
Votto entered Thursday's finale against the Cardinals 0-for-his-last-10 and 3-for-his-last-34. Since stringing together an eight-game hitting streak at the end of July and early August, he batted .184 in 24 games before taking the field on Thursday, dropping his season average from .325 to .301.
Although Votto has started all 141 games this season, manager Dusty Baker doesn't believe the slump is the result of fatigue.
"Most times it's mental, not physical," Baker said. "We're all capable of that."
Baker has talked with Votto about taking a day off to rest and take a break from hitting. Votto was not interested in that, though, and now Baker said it's harder and harder to find a day that he could afford to be without his All-Star first baseman.
A good indication of how much Votto has been struggling came on Wednesday, when Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez pitched to him instead of walking him with a runner on second and first base open in the bottom of the 15th.
When asked about that decision on Thursday, Baker said, "People get bold when they think they got you down."
"It looks to me like for a while they've been coming right at him," he added. "When you're the top dog and they get you down, then they all enjoy beating on you. I told Joey, they're trying to make up for all the beating he was putting on them, you know what I mean?"
Parra back after attending child's birth
CINCINNATI -- Reliever Manny Parra was unavailable on Wednesday night, as he joined his wife for the birth of their child. It was unfortunate timing for manager Dusty Baker, who likely would have used the left-hander against Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams and might have been able to avoid surrendering one of the slugger's two home runs in extra innings.
"But his wife needed him more than we did," Baker said, laughing. "We don't have to hear it for a lifetime."
Parra, who has been mostly solid this season and has provided a left-handed arm in place of the injured Sean Marshall, returned to Great American Ball Park on Thursday, though Baker had yet to talk to him.
"I hope he's scheduled to come back today, but his baby and wife are fine," Baker said. "That's No. 1."
• As Bronson Arroyo and the rest of the Reds' starters took batting practice before Thursday's game, Mat Latos stood off to the right of the cage surrounding home plate. Although he appeared out of harm's way, a foul ball off Arroyo's bat snuck under the cage and hit him on the inside of his right leg. He tried to walk it off before revealing a large red mark on the leg and heading back into the clubhouse. Fortunately for the Reds, he appeared to be OK when he returned to the field while the rest of the team took BP.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. Jeremy Warnemuende is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.