Joey Votto's health status remains uncertain because of lingering quad injury

When will Joey Votto return to the Reds' lineup?

That question lingered Saturday as the team's star first baseman remained in Cincinnati to continue to rehab his ailing left quad.

Votto didn't make the trip to Philadelphia on Friday for the start of his team's three-game series against the Phillies so doctors could perform an MRI on his left knee after a less than MVP-like start to the season.

He went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts Thursday night against the Padres, adding to a May where he has hit just .209 and drove in only two RBIs in his last 16 games. The 2010 NL MVP is hitting .257 with six homers and 12 RBIs overall.

The results of the MRI showed the 30-year-old's problems digging in stem from a left distal quadriceps strain, according to the Reds. There's no structural damage to Votto's knee, which had to be operated on twice in 2012.

RELATED: Votto has MRI on knee, but bum quad the issue

“It means there’s a reason for the soreness and the fatigue in the leg,” Reds skipper Bryan Price described the injury Friday to Reds.com writer Mark Sheldon .

But while the Reds may have dodged a bullet to Votto's knee, the team's best player could miss more than just the series in Philly – and even wind up on the disabled list. He'd be the 12th Red to be on the DL this season.

"We are going to assess here, by the end of this series, where he is," Price told Sheldon. "If there's a decision to be made in regards to a possible rejoining the club to play [or] possible DL... right now we're not in any hurry to make that assessment. We don't need to with the roster at this point. Moving forward, we may have to."

Without Votto the team is missing a big bat in the heart of its lineup, especially as budding superstar Jay Bruce sits on the 15-day DL.

In a bit good news, catcher Devin Mesoraco returned Friday from a strained left hamstring that had him out since April 25. He had a homer and three RBIs in the Reds' 3-0 win over the Phils. 

Mesoraco sat Saturday as the team plans to be cautious getting him back into playing shape.

Even if Votto avoids the disabled list, Price could not say when he'd re-join the club. The team's road trip moves on to Washington, D.C. on Monday for a three-game series.

"I honestly don't know," Price said. "It's really hard to tell. We're still optimistic that he may not need to go on the DL."

If Votto is out of the lineup beyond the weekend, the Reds would likely turn to longtime prospect Neftali Soto who has been with club all season but had only 17 at-bats (three hits) going into Saturday night's game.

After sitting Friday night, Soto, 25, had one hit and two strikeouts in three plate appearances before being lifted during Saturday night's lopsided 12-1 loss .

Management could also consider calling up lefty Donald Lutz , who has been on a tear with the team's Double-A affiliate, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

Ryan Ludwick and Bryan Pena could also receive spot starts at first base.

Price said team doctors expect to have more clarity about Votto's status by the end of the weekend.

As of Saturday night, the Reds are 19-21 and 6.5 games back of the Brewers for first place in the National League Central.

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