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Cincinnati needs Phillips' hot bat down stretch

CINCINNATI -- Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips has been on a hitting tear of late, which could be critical for his team as it tries to stay in the National League Central race.

Phillips entered Sunday with a four-game hitting streak and hits in seven of his last eight games. In those eight games, he was batting .344 (11-for-32) with two home runs and six RBIs. In the 45 games before that from June 7-July 30, he was hitting only .208 with three homers.

That stretch followed a four-game absence when Phillips was out with a left forearm contusion from being hit by a pitch against the Pirates on June 1. Reds manager Dusty Baker wasn't willing to say if the hit-by-pitch was behind the slump.

"I don't know if that was it or not," Baker said on Sunday. "That was it for a while. It wasn't it the whole time. Sometimes you go in and out of funks. It's hard to sustain for the whole year. You've got bad luck. You're not seeing the ball good. You get fatigued."

Phillips entered play with a .263 average and 14 home runs, while his 87 RBIs were second-most in the NL. His RBI single in the first inning of Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Padres underscored a reason why things might be going well.

In the at-bat against pitcher Tyson Ross, Phillips sharply lined his base hit to right field. That's exactly what Baker wants to see from his cleanup hitter.

"I was talking to him about pulling off the ball," Baker said. "Most of the time when you're not hitting, you're pulling off the ball. You can see his whole face on the other side of the field over there. If we're on the road, we can see his whole face on our side of the field versus down on the ball.

"It's easier said than done to correct. Most of the time when you're not going good, you've got a quick shoulder, a quick hip, which creates a quick head."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
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