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Bruce hits 2 HRs, Reds beat Diamondbacks 7-2

Associated Press

Jay Bruce returned from a two-week layoff and homered in each of his first two at-bats Monday night. Bruce missed the last two weeks because of a strained abdomen.

CINCINNATI — No one can call the Cincinnati Reds losers anymore.

Jay Bruce returned from a two-week layoff and homered in each of his first two at-bats Monday night, and the Reds went deep five times in all during a 7-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks that secured their first winning season since 2000.

The Reds’ nine-year streak of losing seasons was their longest in a half-century. The last time they finished above .500, Ken Griffey Jr. was in his first season with his hometown team.

“I don’t know if it means a lot to this group of guys,” starter Bronson Arroyo said. “We weren’t around for all the hard times. We’re a young team. For the organization and the city, it’s got to be satisfying.”

With each win, the NL Central leaders close in on another breakthrough — their first playoff appearance since 1995. They moved seven games ahead of second-place St. Louis, which lost to the Cubs 5-1.

“Winning the division is the next step,” manager Dusty Baker said. “The next step is the playoffs. We’ve got one step out of the way. There’s three or four more to go.”

They’re starting to get some of their injured players back along the way.

Bruce missed the last two weeks because of a strained abdomen. He hit a solo homer and a two-run shot off Barry Enright (6-4), and later added an RBI single.

When he got to the dugout after his second homer, catcher Ramon Hernandez had a question.

“He said, ‘That easy, huh?’ ” Bruce said. “I said, ‘No, it’s not that easy.’ ”

The Reds made it look easy all-around. Drew Stubbs, Joey Votto and Orlando Cabrera added solo homers. Arroyo (15-10) gave up a pair of solo shots in six innings while reaching 15 wins for the third straight season.

Miguel Montero and Ryan Church hit back-to-back homers in the second inning. Arroyo gave up seven hits overall and struck out a season-high eight even though he felt tired.

“The velocity was way down on my fastball,” said Arroyo, who was clocked around 84 mph. “You don’t have your zip sometimes.”

Cincinnati sold only 12,061 tickets — its smallest crowd this season — for the breakthrough win.

The Reds took two of three last weekend from Pittsburgh despite big problems in the bullpen, which blew three save chances and set up a pair of extra-inning games. The home run barrage prevented any late drama this time.

Arizona fell to 0-4 this season against Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks have lost eight of their last nine overall.

The Reds made a trade before the game to help their injury-thinned outfield, acquiring Willie Bloomquist from the Royals. Bloomquist will join the team on Tuesday.

Cincinnati played the weekend series against Pittsburgh with only two fully healthy experienced outfielders — Jonny Gomes in left and Stubbs in center. Bruce was originally out of Monday’s lineup, but Baker changed his mind because outfielder Chris Heisey was sore.

Bruce reassured Baker that he felt fine.

Better than fine, as it turned out.

“That was more than we could ask for right there,” Baker said. “It was a big day for Jay. It was a big day for us. We needed that badly.”

Bruce hit the fifth pitch he saw into the seats in right field, picking up his power surge. The outfielder was working on a stretch of five homers in four games when he pulled an abdominal muscle during batting practice on Aug. 31, forcing him from the lineup.

In his next at-bat, Bruce hit a two-run shot off Enright, who hadn’t allowed more than two homers in any of his other 13 starts during his debut season. Enright gave up seven hits and five runs in only three innings, by far his shortest start so far.

“Balls were middle-up and my breaking ball was flat,” he said.

Game notes

Diamondbacks 3B Mark Reynolds got a day of rest. He has a sore hand and is in an 0-for-23 slump. … Arizona called up C Konrad Schmidt, who batted .315 at Double-A Mobile. … Diamondbacks pinch-hitter Rusty Ryal fouled off 10 pitches with two strikes against LHP Bill Bray. He eventually struck out on the 16th pitch. … It was Bruce’s 19th multihomer game, his fourth this season. He hit three in a 7-1 win over the Cubs on Aug. 27 at Great American Ball Park. … Reds reliever Jordan Smith was ejected by plate umpire John Hirschbeck for complaining about ball-and-strike calls as he left the field. … Brandon Phillips ended an 0-for-15 slump with a single in the eighth.

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