Denny Neagle isn't all the way back from his shoulder problems, but he's close enough to spark a lot of hope in the Cincinnati Reds.
Neagle won his second straight start and Barry Larkin had a two-run triple Wednesday night, leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 6-3 victory over the fading Colorado Rockies.
Combined with Houston's 2-1 loss to Los Angeles, the victory moved the Reds to within a game and a half of the Astros in the NL Central. Cincinnati has won nine of its last 11 and is counting on Neagle down the stretch.
"Neagle has looked good two outings in a row now," manager Jack McKeon said. "That's a big plus for us. He's not at his full game yet, but he's close and he's given us two quick wins."
The majors' best road team improved its home record to .500 for the first time this season. The Reds are 28-28 at Cinergy Field and 34-15 on the road.
While the Reds kept climbing, the Rockies matched the low point of their season. Colorado is 7-14 since the All-Star break and has fallen 13 games under .500 (47-60) for the second time this season.
Right now, the Rockies are out of sync.
"That's the kind of team we've been all year," manager Jim Leyland said. "The right combination hasn't been there enough: good pitching-good hitting. We've gotten good hitting but not good pitching, and vice-versa. We haven't gotten on a roll because we haven't gotten the combination consistently."
Neagle had a lot to do with it Wednesday. The Rockies lead the NL in hits and batting average, but managed only three hits and one run off Neagle in six innings.
"Neagle threw a pretty good game," Bichette said. "You can get your hits off him, but he gives up as little as he can when he's right. When he's right, he lets you beat yourself."
It's been a pronounced turnaround for Neagle, who was 0-3 with an 8.17 ERA in six starts during his first stint with the Reds. One of the low points was a start at Coors Field on May 19, when he lasted only 1 2-3 innings but got bailed out with a no-decision in the Reds' 24-12 win.
Neagle's main problem at the moment is his lack of endurance, something that will come over time. He has thrown 95 and 88 pitches in his two starts.
"When I'm healthy, I shoot for seven strong innings," Neagle said. "Obviously, I'm not at the point where I can think about reaching 110 pitches yet."
The Reds scored three runs in the fourth off Darryl Kile (6-11) and three more in the seventh off Jerry Dipoto. Dmitri Young had three of Cincinnati's 12 hits, while Larkin and Sean Casey had two hits apiece.
Kile was in trouble in each of the first three innings, but a couple of double plays bailed him out. Kile's season-long control problems did him in during the fourth.
Casey singled and moved up on Kile's second wild pitch. Greg Vaughn then walked on four pitches and Larkin tripled to right-center. Eddie Taubensee's sacrifice fly made it 3-0.
Dipoto retired only one of the six batters he faced in the seventh. Young and Casey had RBI singles and Dipoto's wild pitch let in the final run.
Walker, the NL's batting leader, was 0-for-2, dropping his average two points to .360. Walker is in a 3-for-20 slump and has gone hitless in consecutive games for only the third time this season.
Casey was 2-for-4, raising his average two points to .355.
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