MILWAUKEE -- A night off not only did Edwin Encarnacion some good, it helped the Reds notch a win the next day, too.
Encarnacion was mired in a 0-for-18 slump, and was just 2-for-25 (.080) overall this season before he came up big on Thursday. His two-run home run in the seventh inning ended up being the game-winning hit in a 4-1 Reds win over the Brewers at Miller Park. Cincinnati took two of three in the series.
"I had five games with no hits. You feel bad," Encarnacion said. "I know it's going to come. I know I just have to be patient and don't worry about that."
Manager Dusty Baker sat Encarnacion from Wednesday's game, but it was far from a day of rest. As teachers would call it, Encarnacion had an in-service day and spent much of hit in the batting cage.
"He hit, hit ,and hit," Baker said. "He had a big ol' blister from hitting. He put a pad on it and was ready to go. Sometimes, you have to clear your mind. My job as a manager is kind of knowing when or guessing when."
"It relaxed me," said Encarnacion, who displayed the blister on his left palm. "I watched the game yesterday all the way from the bench. I had to see every hitter -- who's hot, who's not, and learn something."
The score was tied at one in the seventh when Adam Dunn beat a right-side shift by slapping a leadoff single to left field against Brewers starter Carlos Villanueva (1-1).
Encarnacion followed and smoked Villanueva's first pitch into the left field seats for a two-run homer, his second game-winning homer of the season. Scott Hatteberg added a double in the inning, and would come around to score on Paul Bako's RBI single to make it a three-run game.
The lead only made Reds starter Aaron Harang tougher to contend with for the Brewers. The right-hander was sensational in an eight-inning start in which he allowed one earned run and five hits without yielding a walk.
In breaking type, Harang had just three strikeouts and more than half of his outs came via groundballs.
"[Shortstop Jeff Keppinger] was all over me, 'you're wearing me out at short,'" Harang said. "Hey, next time he might not even get one."
But sticking two his MO, Harang threw strikes, lots of strikes. Of his 99 pitches, 74 were for strikes. It was the perfect setup to face an aggressive-swinging team like Milwaukee.
"The fact they know I'm going to be out there throwing strikes make them have to swing the bat.," Harang said. "I'm trying to get strike one so I can get ahead and make them hit my pitch. I was able to do that today."
"Aaron Harang, man, this guy is really a good pitcher," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "This guy is one of the best pitchers in the National League, and the players know it, but there's not a lot of other people that know it. He's really underrated."
The only thing that really went wrong for Harang came when he botched a suicide squeeze attempt in the fifth inning. The missed bunt got Scott Hatteberg thrown out trying to scamper back to third base.
"I told Dusty that was the first time I ever got that [sign]," Harang said. "I almost looked at [third base coach Mark] Berry as if I got that right or not. The worst case scenario was if I do get it down and nothing happens, so be it. But he just threw me a slider down and away and I couldn't get to it."
Harang's offensive misstep is no cause for worry, though. It was a good series for the Reds to win. Milwaukee, now 6-3, started the week in first place, and came into the day as the National League's best-hitting team. Cincinnati (6-4) held its NL Central rival to eight runs for the series and left the Brewers best but slumping hitter, Prince Fielder, 0-for-11.
The Reds have yet to lose a series, winning two and splitting one. Before the game, Baker said this:
"The two things I want to stress, we haven't done yet. Win the first game of a series and getaway day," Baker said. "Then you're assured of not being swept. You're assured of a pretty good chance to win a series. In some cases, to sweep the series."
It was halfway to mission accomplished when the Reds split town with the win and headed for their next series at Pittsburgh.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.