CINCINNATI -- It didn't start out that way, but Reds left fielder Ryan Ludwick has demonstrated that he is one of the best pickups of the offseason.
For the second straight night, Ludwick had a home run and four RBIs in a win over the Padres. This time, it was a 6-4 Reds victory that has given them wins in 12 of their last 13 games and 19 out of the last 22.
In 35 games since June 14, when he owned a .201 average for the season, Ludwick is batting .339 (41-for-121) with 11 homers and 29 RBIs. He's experienced that type of tear before, just not with the Reds.
"Oh yeah. I got player of the month in July, '09," said Ludwick, who was signed at a bargain for $2.5 million, with a $5 million mutual option for 2013. "I can recall six or seven times. It all happened while I was in St. Louis, but I recall quite a few times I've been locked in like this. I've found my stroke."
"We want to keep him on fire," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He's not old, but he's not a spring chicken either. We have to monitor his workload so he can stay strong and stay fresh."
In a 2011 season that split between the Padres and Pirates, Ludwick batted .237 and had 13 homers, 75 RBIs and .363 slugging percentage in 490 at-bats. In only 265 at-bats this season, he has his average up to .264 with 19 homers, 56 RBIs and a .555 slugging percentage.
In the bottom of the sixth, with the Reds trailing 4-3, Jay Bruce rolled a one-out RBI double down the right-field line that scored Drew Stubbs with the tying run to finish Padres starter Kip Wells' outing. Two batters later, with two outs and Brad Boxberger pitching for San Diego, Ludwick came through again with an RBI single to right field for the go-ahead run.
In the seventh, Ludwick added a two-out RBI single that scored Stubbs to make it 6-4.
Cincinnati has the best record in baseball at 63-41, and leads the National League Central over the Pirates by three games. While Ludwick has been a big reason for the recent surge, he spreads the credit.
"With Joey [Votto] out, it's been different people at times," Ludwick said. "It's been Bruce, it's been Stubbs, it's been [Brandon] Phillips, myself, [Zack] Cozart, catching, pitching, everybody. Everybody has pitched in over this time period. This is the time we need everybody to pitch in obviously, with [Votto] out of the lineup and tonight we had Brandon out of the lineup."
For the third time in the series, and the fourth time in the last five games, the Reds' starting pitcher wasn't stellar.
Bronson Arroyo pitched six innings and allowed four runs and seven hits with two walks and one strikeout. San Diego took a 2-0 lead against Arroyo with one out in the first inning on Chase Headley's two-run homer to right field.
"It was a battle out there, for sure. I didn't have a whole lot," Arroyo said. "It's nice to see the ballclub finding other ways to win games. As the rotation, we've been throwing the ball well all year. There's going to be a time when we don't."
For the third time this season, Cozart led off the Reds' first inning with a homer, a shot to left field against Wells. Following a two-out walk to Scott Rolen, Ludwick hit a 2-0 pitch for a two-run homer to left field -- his 19th of the season and his fourth in four games.
"It doesn't matter what we threw at him, he hit everything," Padres catcher John Baker said. "Every mistake we made, he took advantage of it. When a guy is swinging the bat good like he is, balls are going to fall for you."
Through the first three games of the series, Ludwick is 6-for-11 with 10 RBIs against his former team.
"I really, really enjoyed my time over there," Ludwick said. The ballpark [Petco Park] was another story. It's part of the business, I guess. You've got to go out there and fight for your team. They're the opposition now and we need to win ballgames."
Four straight two-out singles by the Padres in the fourth led to two runs and cost Arroyo his one-run lead.
"That was a great game for us to win. Bronson kind of weaved his way through six innings," Baker said. "It was a hot night and he was running on fumes in the sixth. He navigated his way through there and gave us what we needed."
Sean Marshall replaced Arroyo and pitched a perfect seventh inning. While making his Reds debut after his Tuesday trade from the Royals, Jonathan Broxton had one strikeout during his perfect eighth inning and received a warm ovation from the 20,527 fans at Great American Ball Park.
"It was pretty special," Broxton said. "They have a great ballclub here and a real good pitching staff, so hopefully I can fit in and continue to win games here."
Aroldis Chapman, who did not allow a run in July, gave up a two-out double in the ninth before notching his 23rd save, and 15th in a row.