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J.A. Happ breaks his bat on a liner back to the pitcher. (credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images)

J.A. Happ breaks his bat on a liner back to the pitcher. (credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images)

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(AP) — The surging Cincinnati Reds were cooled off during their last series.

Facing the struggling Houston Astros might help them get back on track.

The visiting Reds hope to bounce back from their first losing series in more than two weeks Friday night when they try to extend the Astros’ longest skid of the season to seven games.

Cincinnati (28-22) had won eight of nine to move past St. Louis into first place in the NL Central before losing two of three at Pittsburgh. The Reds still maintain a 1 1/2-game lead in the division, but they are eager to turn things around.

“I think just being consistent can keep us right in the thick of things for the whole year,” starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo told the Reds’ official website.

The Reds’ recorded 12 hits Tuesday in their lone victory at Pittsburgh – an 8-1 win – but combined for two runs and 10 hits in their losses to the Pirates.

“We still have holes in our roster,” said second baseman Brandon Phillips, who went 2 for 11 in the series.

Joey Votto got a rest from the starting lineup in Wednesday’s series finale but delivered a pinch-hit single in Cincinnati’s 2-1 defeat. Votto, 12 for 23 in his last seven contests, is batting .467 with four homers and 16 RBIs during an 18-game hitting streak at Minute Maid Park.

Though the Reds dropped three of four games at Houston in 2011, they took two of three from the Astros at home last month.

Cincinnati starter Mike Leake (1-5, 5.47 ERA) will aim for a better outing Friday after giving up 13 runs – 10 earned – in 7 1-3 innings to lose his last two starts versus Houston. The right-hander allowed six runs – three earned – in 3 2-3 innings of a 6-4 loss to the Astros on April 27.

Leake threw 84 pitches in only 3 2-3 innings against Colorado on Saturday, allowing three runs in a game the Reds went on to win 10-3.

Houston first baseman Carlos Lee is 1 for 12 against Leake, and 5 for 42 (.119) in his last 13 games versus Cincinnati. However, the veteran is batting .308 this season at home, where the Astros (22-29) are 16-10.

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