Kolten Wong's uneven season is trending upward at just the right time for the Milwaukee Brewers, who continue a four-game series against the host Cincinnati Reds on Friday.
Milwaukee had just four hits in the series opener on Thursday, but three of them were homers from Wong. He carried the offense with five RBIs in the Brewers' 5-1 victory.
With the win, the Brewers (80-70) remained 2 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies (82-67) for the third and final National League wild-card berth.
Milwaukee has won 11 of its first 16 meetings against Cincinnati (59-91) this season.
Wong entered Thursday's action hitting .212 for the month, but the second baseman is 8-for-20 (.400) in his past five games.
"Obviously it hasn't been the season that I'd hoped for, but I've been constantly grinding away and getting back to what I know I can do," Wong said after his first career three-homer game. "I'm glad it showed up in a win."
Wong has a career-high 15 home runs for the Brewers, whose rotation will receive a boost this weekend with the anticipated returns of Eric Lauer and Freddy Peralta.
Milwaukee has been without Peralta since he left his start against the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 8 due to right shoulder fatigue. Manager Craig Counsell said the right-hander could get the start on Sunday.
The Brewers are expected to send Lauer (10-7, 3.91 ERA) to the mound on Friday, while the Reds will turn to Luis Cessa (4-3, 4.85 ERA).
Lauer, 27, is set to return from the injured list to make his first start since Sept. 7. The left-hander departed the outing against the Colorado Rockies after 2 2/3 innings with a left elbow strain.
The Ohio native avoided a minor league rehab stint and was encouraged after throwing a pair of bullpen sessions. He could be on a pitch count in his first outing in two weeks.
"I'm hoping to just go out there and treat it like a normal start," Lauer said. "Even if there is a limit, I prefer for them not to tell me just because you can have it in your mind that, 'I'm this far, I've got to push,' or you try to do too much because you know you have less time."
Lauer is 3-4 with a 4.01 ERA in 10 career starts (nine games) vs. Cincinnati, including 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two outings this season.
Cincinnati scratched left-hander Mike Minor from his scheduled start and placed him on the 15-day injured list Friday with a sore shoulder.
Cessa is making his 44th appearance and eighth start of the season. He is 1-0 with a 5.14 ERA in six career relief appearances against Milwaukee.
Cincinnati, which has lost 11 of its past 14 games, welcomed center fielder Mike Siani to the lineup on Thursday. The 23-year-old went 0-for-3 while batting eighth in his major league debut.
--Field Level Media