CINCINNATI — The Reds are 12 games into 2021 and entered Thursday’s off-day tied for first place with a 7-5 record in the National League Central division. Their fast start was cooled off a little by a 2-4 western road trip to Arizona and San Francisco.

Here are three things about the Reds I am thinking about:

Fans are likely worried about Joey Votto again since he’s hitting only .184/.216/.306 through his first 12 games. But if you peruse the data on Votto’s Statcast page, there is reason for encouragement.

That tells me that Votto has been incredibly unlucky, even if his changed approach of being less selective and hitting for more power is sound.

On Monday vs. the Giants, Votto connected for his first home run of the season with a drive into McCovey Cove. The following night, he went to the opposite field with a homer to left field. For both homers, he hit fastballs. Last season, pitchers threw him fastballs 61.1 percent of the time, but it’s been 52.8 percent in 2021.

Here is what my MLB.com teammate, Anthony Castrovince, reported Votto saying in his media session on Monday, when I was off:

“Not only that, of those fastballs, most have been higher in the zone,” Votto said. “I have to burn the other options pitchers have, and I have to burn higher fastballs. And then, at some point, I’ll get quality pitches to hit. … I just need to make that adjustment. That’ll come. If it doesn’t come, then I’m in the wrong league.”

Sonny Gray’s return is coming right on time

The Reds announced that Sonny Gray will be activated from the 10-day injured list to start on Saturday vs. Cleveland. The rotation did a nice job while Gray was out with a mid-back muscle strain since Spring Training. But with a tough portion of the schedule ahead, the Reds will really need Gray’s contributions. He has a 3.07 ERA in 42 starts from 2019-20 and, as one of the team’s leaders, the right-hander has a way of setting a tone for games and series.

After back-to-back losing series, the Reds have a chance to return home and win a series vs. Cleveland. Following Jeff Hoffman, they have Gray and Wade Miley — who has opened with 11 scoreless innings in his two starts.

The bullpen has some leaks

Reds relievers are a tight group, and the back end of the bullpen has largely held its their end of games. Tejay Antone has 6 2/3 scoreless innings in three appearances, including 3 2/3 hitless innings vs. the Giants in Monday’s win. Sean Doolittle has given up some hits, but his velocity has been strong while averaging 93.4 mph and touching 95-96 mph. Lucas Sims, who has held opponents hitless and scoreless in four of his five appearances, notched his first save by replacing Antone for the final out on Monday.

But here’s the not-so-good news: Cincinnati’s bullpen is second in the Majors with eight home runs allowed, tied for third with 24 walks. Amir Garrett gave up homers in each of his first two appearances, including a grand slam vs. the Pirates during a blowout win. Garrett was scoreless in his latest appearance on Friday at Arizona, but issued two walks. Lefty Cionel Pérez, who looked fantastic in spring, has five walks in 4 1/3 innings and an 8.31 ERA. Cam Bedrosian, who also had a nice camp, has walked five with eight hits in 4 2/3 innings with a 9.64 ERA.

When Antone does those pivotal long relief appearances like Monday, it essentially shuts him down for the remainder of a series. Others will have to step up when he’s not available. José De León, who already has 18 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings in two starts, is moving to the bullpen with Gray returning from the injured list. De León has had consistency issues, but his high strikeout rate and quality stuff could make him a great long-relief weapon to pair with Antone.