CINCINNATI -- With Tony Cingrani returning to the mound on Thursday after missing two starts with a strained lower back, manager Dusty Baker questioned how much he would get from the 24-year-old left-hander. The answer, thanks in part to a strong offensive attack, turned out to be more than enough, as Cingrani lasted 5 1/3 innings and gave up just two runs en route to a 6-2 win over the Cardinals at Great American Ball Park.
Cingrani put any doubts regarding his health to rest early. After working around a two-out single in the first, he struck out the side in the second. In the bottom of the inning, he hustled down the line for a bunt single before recording the first stolen base of his career and eventually scoring the game's first run.
"Love him to death, man," third baseman Todd Frazier said of Cingrani. "I love his energy, I love his poise out there. I'm very happy with what he did, and he's healthy."
With his performance, Cingrani showed no ill effects in coming back from the injury, proving able to continue to fill in for Johnny Cueto, who likely will be headed to the bullpen when he returns from his own injury.
Although Cingrani felt some discomfort in his back on Thursday, it was nothing severe.
"Just getting out there and throwing it and getting that same torque on my back and that adrenaline, it was good," Cingrani said. "It felt pretty good to get back out there."
From an even bigger perspective, Cingrani's effort helped the Reds, who took two of the previous three from the Cardinals, win their first series over St. Louis in their last eight tries. The win pushed Cincinnati to within 1 1/2 games of second-place St. Louis and three games of idle Pittsburgh in the National League Central with less than a month to play.
And it was all sparked by Cingrani, who after allowing a single in the first retired seven straight before walking two in the fourth.
It wasn't until the fifth that Cingrani surrendered a run -- a solo shot off the bat of David Freese. After setting down three in a row to end the inning, he struck out pinch-hitter Brock Peterson to open the sixth, but Matt Carpenter followed with a triple to right-center. Carpenter then scored on a wild pitch, and after a single and a walk in consecutive at-bats, Cingrani's day was done. He allowed four hits and three walks on the night to go with seven strikeouts.
Cingrani said that all of his off the mound had no effect on him, as he wanted to do whatever he could to help the team, even though he wasn't allowed to swing the bat.
"He'll do anything to beat you," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's the attitude you like, that's the attitude he brings."
By the time the Cardinals got to Cingrani, the Reds had already built a lead they would never relinquish.
Outside Cingrani's run in the second, the Reds relied mostly on the home run, connecting on three solo shots off Cardinals starter Lance Lynn in three consecutive innings. Frazier got the ball rolling in the third with the first of his two homers on the night before Shin-Soo Choo drilled his 20th of the year in the fourth and Jay Bruce hit his 27th in the fifth.
"If you look at the game overall, I made three bad pitches that they hit for three home runs," Lynn said. "That usually doesn't happen. You take away those three pitches, and it's a totally different ballgame."
With Lynn out of the game, the Reds added some insurance in the bottom of the sixth, when Bruce drove in Choo for his second RBI of the night and 90th of the season. Frazier hit his second solo homer of the game in the seventh, as Cincinnati scored in six straight innings.
Armed with a four-run lead, Baker didn't take any chances, sending closer Aroldis Chapman to finish the deal in a non-save situation in the ninth.
The only bad news for the Reds, who collected 10 hits, came when second baseman Brandon Phillips exited with a contusion to his left quad after the seventh. Phillips sustained the injury while turning a double play in the sixth, and although he remained at second for the top of the seventh, he was replaced by Cesar Izturis before batting in the bottom of the inning.
Baker said after the game that he would know more about Phillips' status on Friday, but he couldn't take a chance making it any worse on Thursday.
The Reds have now won five of their last eight, including four of five against St. Louis. The one loss to the Cardinals was Wednesday night's heartbreaking 16-inning marathon, but Baker learned a lot about his players from the way they responded.
"Boy, that was a big series right there," he said. "You try not to think about games in the past, but that game last night still hurts. But that's OK. A good team, that's what they do. They bounce back. You have to be a resilient team."
Jeremy Warnemuende is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.