Surging Reds continue set with last-place Astros

The Cincinnati Reds will try to add to their division lead for the second straight night when they visit Minute Maid Park Tuesday for the second of three games with the Houston Astros.

The Reds stretched their edge in the National League Central from a half-game to 1 1/2 on Monday, after Mat Latos tossed five strong innings and was backed by 17 hits in an 8-3 victory.

Latos (8-3) allowed just two runs on eight hits and two walks over five frames to earn the win, while Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick each registered three hits, two RBI and two runs scored to help the Reds earn their fifth straight victory.

Second-place Pittsburgh lost to the Chicago Cubs, 2-0, on Monday.

Houston's Wandy Rodriguez (7-9) absorbed Monday's loss after giving up three runs on seven hits and three walks with six strikeouts over six innings.

The Astros' Chris Johnson tied a career-high with four base hits, but Houston dropped its seventh straight game and has lost 20 of its last 22 contests.

"We're trying not to believe in personal goals around here, just trying to turn this thing around," Johnson said. "I'd rather take an 0-for and a win."

The Reds start right-hander Mike Leake, who's not won in three starts since late June, on Tuesday.

The 24-year-old Californian tossed a complete game and allowed a run in a 5-1 defeat of San Francisco on June 29, but is 0-1 in three starts since - including a pair of no-decisions since the All-Star break.

He's allowed 18 hits and eight runs in 11 1/3 innings in the post-break starts, though the Reds have won both games against St. Louis and Arizona.

Leake defeated Houston on June 1 after going seven innings and allowing four hits with seven strikeouts. He's 3-4 in nine career meetings against the Astros.

Houston counters with fellow right-hander Lucas Harrell, who faces the Reds for the third time in his 37th major-league appearance.

The 27-year-old made nine appearances (2 starts) while splitting 2011 between Houston and the Chicago White Sox, but has been exclusively a starter for the Astros this season.

He faced the Reds in Cincinnati in his fifth start of the season on April 28 and dropped a 6-0 verdict after being touched for five earned runs on nine hits in six innings.

Harrell hasn't won since June 27, including a loss and a no-decision in two tough-luck outings since the All-Star break in which he's given up only two runs and nine hits in 12 innings. The Astros lost both games while being outscored by a 4-2 margin.

The Reds have won five of seven games against the Astros in 2012, including two of three in Cincinnati in April and two of three in Houston in June.

Houston last won the season series in 2008.