CINCINNATI -- The NL Central leaders left town with one intention -- bring back a title.
The Cincinnati Reds' playoff push slowed a bit Thursday, when Rodrigo Lopez held their league-leading offense in check for seven innings of the Arizona Diamondbacks' 3-1 victory. The Reds hit the road with a comfortable lead and a chance to clinch a playoff spot during their eight-game trip to Houston, Milwaukee and San Diego.
The Reds went 4-3 on a homestand against the league's two worst clubs -- the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona -- to move themselves a few wins away from their first playoff appearance since 1995.
"We're getting close," said Edinson Volquez (3-3), who is trying to be part of the playoff rotation. "We don't have that many left. If we win the series in Houston, it will be real exiting. We'll be really close."
Close enough that they no longer worry about the St. Louis Cardinals, the one team with any chance of catching them.
"We're in a good situation," said Jonny Gomes, who drove in Cincinnati's run off Lopez (6-14). "We don't have to scoreboard watch, we really don't. We've done a good job of keeping our eyes on the prize."
The Reds have such a big lead -- eight games over St. Louis to start the day -- that they can consider options for their playoff rotation. Volquez is trying to pitch his way into it.
The 2008 All-Star had reconstructive elbow surgery last summer and is still rounding into form. He returned to the rotation in July but was so inconsistent that he got sent to the minors for two starts to fix his flaws. In two starts back, he's been better.
Last Saturday, he allowed only one hit in seven shutout innings against Pittsburgh. He gave up six hits and three runs in 6 2/3 innings against Arizona, throwing a pair of wild pitches. He also fanned seven, although that wasn't so noteworthy -- the Diamondbacks are about to break the major league record for strikeouts in a season.
"I felt good today," said Volquez, who left after 85 pitches. "I feel I'm getting everything together. I'm more consistent, I'm throwing strikes, my delivery is together. My last two games I've pitched really well."
Manager Dusty Baker likes what he's seen out of Volquez in his last two starts.
"He's throwing as well as anybody we have right now," Baker said. "That's a positive sign. He threw the ball real good. That one inning he lost command of the strike zone a little bit."
Lopez was solid all the way through. He gave up eight hits and didn't walk a batter while winning for the first time since July 8.
Lopez was 0-7 with a 6.53 ERA in his last 11 starts. He allowed only a first-inning run -- Drew Stubbs singled and scored when Gomes' fly to center went off Chris Young's glove on the warning track, dropping for a double.
"He's got a big smile on his face, I know that," manager Kirk Gibson said. "It's been a long time coming. He's fought through it, worked hard and made adjustments."
Lopez pitched out of scoring threats in the fourth and fifth innings against the NL's most prolific offense. Juan Gutierrez pitched the ninth for his 10th save in 12 tries.
"I started feeling more confident," Lopez said. "I'm not fighting myself. I'm keeping the ball down and just letting it go. I'm keeping more focused during the game."
Arizona split the four-game series, finishing 3-7 against the Reds this season. Arizona has lost 12 of its last 15 against Cincinnati.
The Diamondbacks fanned nine times, moving ahead of the 2008 Marlins for second place on the all-time list with 1,373 strikeouts this season. The 2001 Brewers set the major league record by fanning 1,399 times.
Arizona has struck out at least a dozen times in eight of its last 10 games.
Drew extended his hitting streak to seven games. ... The Reds traded right-handed reliever Enerio Del Rosario to Houston for cash. The 24-year-old appeared in nine games with Cincinnati during the first half of the season, posting a 2.08 ERA without a decision. ... Third baseman Scott Rolen and 2B Brandon Phillips were out of the starting lineup, getting a day of rest after a night game. ... Outfielder Jim Edmonds pinch-hit and flied out, his first appearance since he strained abdominal muscles in August.