CINCINNATI -- Reds shortstop Zack Cozart always feels confident in the field. Recently, much to the delight of manager Dusty Baker, he's also started to feel confident at the plate.
Since his batting average sat at .236 on Aug. 13, Cozart had gone 22-for-62 (.355) with four extra-base hits, including a home run, and 14 RBIs in his last 18 games entering Tuesday. His average climbed to a season-high .251, as he's provided a spark at the bottom of the lineup after spending much of the season batting second.
"The last 10 games or so, my hits are all going up the middle or the other way, which I think is me adjusting to how they're pitching me," said Cozart, who singled in his first at-bat Tuesday. "I'm sure they'll adjust soon enough the other way. But I feel good at the plate."
While he was struggling, Cozart said he remained focused on his defense, where he has excelled. Having a defense-first mentality since college, he said he never carried his struggles at the plate with him to shortstop.
"Defense has kind of kept me sane all year," Cozart said. "That's my No. 1 thing. Joe Morgan always comes up to me and says, 'Hey, defense is No. 1. That's why you're out there.'"
Now, Cozart hopes he can be more of a contributor offensively, and his recent play has proven that to be a possibility, as he extended his hitting streak to eight Tuesday. Although he said he didn't listen to the fans who voiced their frustrations with him batting second earlier in the season, he said he hopes to have his own frustrations behind him.
"Obviously you want to play well and help the team win," Cozart said. "There were certain times early in the year where I didn't feel like I was doing my part. At the end of the day, you just want to go home knowing that at some point, somehow in the game -- whether it's offense or defense -- you helped the team win."
Cingrani slated to rejoin Reds rotation Thursday
CINCINNATI -- Although the Reds starter for Thursday was listed as TBA as of Tuesday, Tony Cingrani is preparing like he will be making his return to the rotation for the series finale against the Cardinals.
As he usually does two days before taking the mound, Cingrani, who has been on the disabled list with a lower back strain since Aug. 25, threw a 30-pitch bullpen session Tuesday and said he came out of it without any issues.
"It's good," Cingrani said. "Everything is good."
Cingrani is set to make his first start since Aug. 20, when he exited with the injury after just 3 2/3 innings. Should he not be able to start or can't pitch deep into Thursday's game, the Reds have a backup plan in right-hander Greg Reynolds, who has made the last two starts in Cingrani's place.
"He's pitching Thursday," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of Cingrani. "He said he feels good, so we'll see. That's the same day that Reynolds is scheduled to pitch, so we'll see as far as he can go and how he feels. [We] talked to Reynolds about possibly piggybacking with Cingrani."
Cueto, Marshall throw successful 'pen sessions
CINCINNATI -- The Reds bullpen was a busy place before Tuesday's game against the Cardinals. Along with Tony Cingrani, who is set to return to the mound Thursday, left-handed reliever Sean Marshall and right-handed starter Johnny Cueto also threw bullpen sessions Tuesday afternoon, and according to head trainer Paul Lessard, both were successful.
For Cueto, it was the first time he threw off a mound since leaving his June 28 start against the Rangers. He exited with a strained right lat muscle and hit the disabled list for the third time this season. Meanwhile, Marshall, who has been on the disabled list since May 24 with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder, threw his second bullpen session in the last week, and Lessard said his 27-pitch session was much improved from the one he tossed Sunday.
Although manager Dusty Baker couldn't offer a timeline for either pitcher's return, Lessard said the club will know more within the next week.
"Our plan is basically Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday bullpens -- both of them," Lessard said. "Hopefully they recover in between each one and progress for each one. If they do, great. Sunday we make some decisions."
Cueto threw 35 pitches Tuesday, mixing in some breaking balls with a regular dose of fastballs while also showing off a slightly different motion. Previously, Cueto completely turned his back to home plate before his delivery, but according to Lessard, "it's a modified twist now."
"He kind of closes his front side vs. the Luis Tiant thing," Lessard said.
Lessard did not think Cueto's twist caused his injury, but the lag in his arm when he opened up likely played a role. With a more closed version, Lessard said Cueto is mechanically more efficient.
Baker hadn't had a chance to talk to Cueto about the session, but he said he can tell how the injured righty feels based on his face and his emotions.
"I know he's excited," Baker said. "I know he's kind of tempered it some so he doesn't reinjure himself. It sure would be nice to get Johnny Cueto back. I don't care what capacity it would be. Just have to see how his body and everything responds."
• Right-hander Nick Christiani was called up from Triple-A Louisville on Tuesday, four days after he was optioned to the Bats to make room for fellow reliever Zach Duke. In his only Major League appearance, Christiani didn't allow a hit while walking a batter and striking out another in 1 1/3 innings against the Brewers on Aug. 23.
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.