MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 15: Manager Dusty Baker #12 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on during batting practice before the start of a MLB baseball game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on September 15, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Jason Arnold/Getty Images)
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Reds' Baker misses another game with health issue

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CINCINNATI (AP) -- Manager Dusty Baker wasn't with the Cincinnati Reds as they closed in on the NL Central title on Friday, forced to miss a third straight game because of an irregular heartbeat.

Bench coach Chris Speier ran the club for the opener of a series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Reds' number for clinching the NL Central was two heading into Friday's games.

The 63-year-old Baker was hospitalized in Chicago on Wednesday because of symptoms from an irregular heartbeat that he's had for some time. The Reds swept the series, putting themselves in position to clinch their second division title in three years at home over the weekend.

Baker was expected to be released from the hospital in Chicago, but wouldn't be at Great American Ball Park for the game on Friday.

"He's fine," Speier said, talking to the media outside the manager's office. "They want to make sure before they put him on a plane — he has some fluids (built up) — make sure that's all taken care of. But yeah, you worry about him. He's our leader and for me, just a dear, dear friend. My mind is more with him than it is about this game."

Baker made out the lineups for the two games he missed in Chicago. Speier took care of it on Friday, deciding to rest left fielder Ryan Ludwick one more day to let a sore groin heal. He also put shortstop Zack Cozart back in the starting lineup for the first time in two weeks. Cozart missed 14 games with strained muscles in his left side.

Speier wasn't sure whether left-handed closer Aroldis Chapman would be cleared by the medical staff to play in the series. He hadn't appeared in a game since Sept. 10 because of a tired pitching shoulder.

"If he's available and there's an opportunity to use him, I'm not going to hesitate," Speier said. "I don't know what role I would put him in the first time back, but it would be good to get him back on the mound."

The Reds have clinched at least a wild card berth, so Speier can be cautious with his lineup. The Dodgers were fading from the wild card race after losing 10 of 14. Atlanta and St. Louis were in position to get the two NL wild cards, with Milwaukee 2½ games back and the Dodgers 3 games out.

"We're in a very advantageous position to allow our guys to maybe take an extra day of rest, make sure they don't reinjure something," Speier said. "It's not like the club we're playing. They're fighting every day to get to those playoff scenarios. We're in a pretty good position."

The Reds could clinch on Friday if the Cardinals lost an afternoon game in Chicago and Cincinnati beat Los Angeles in a night game. The Cardinals' game was shown on the videoboard at Great American while the Reds took batting practice on Friday, a change from the usual pregame music.

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

Copyright Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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