Johnny Cueto's current stretch of success has put him in position to set a career high for wins in a season.
The right-hander tries to win his fourth straight start while looking to help the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds extend their winning streak to nine games Saturday night against the Colorado Rockies.
"Pitching and defense," said third baseman Scott Rolen, who had two hits in the opener. "It's hard to lose if you shut somebody out."
Winners of 15 of 17, the Reds haven't had a nine-game run since taking 10 straight from June 21-July 1, 1999.
The odds are in their favor with Cueto (12-5, 2.23 ERA) on the mound. Since losing consecutive starts at San Francisco and Los Angeles, he's responded by going 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA.
After allowing four hits in six innings of a 4-0 win over Arizona on July 17, Cueto yielded one run and struck out nine in seven innings of a 2-1 victory over Milwaukee on Sunday, matching a career-high single-season win total.
"You know Johnny's not going to give up many runs," teammate Wilson Valdez said. "You know you might only have to score a couple of runs."
Only twice this season has Cueto allowed more than three runs in a start. One of those outings came May 25, when he was tagged for five and a season-high 11 hits over 4 2-3 innings of a 6-3 home loss to Colorado. That setback dropped his record to 1-2 with a 3.48 ERA in four starts against the Rockies.
Cueto is not the only Red to bounce back strong from a midseason slump. Ludwick has batted .409 (9 for 22) with five RBIs in his last six games following a 2-for-15 stretch over his previous six. The veteran outfielder is batting .369 with 20 RBIs in 21 career games at Coors Field.
"I kind of got my swagger back," Ludwick told the Reds' official website.
On May 25, he went 1 for 2 with a double against scheduled Colorado starter Christian Friedrich (5-7, 5.71), who allowed three runs and struck out six in a 6-3 win at Cincinnati.
While that victory began a stretch of three straight winning starts for the rookie left-hander, Friedrich is 1-6 with a 6.70 ERA in his last nine outings. He allowed two runs in five innings - but didn't get a decision - in the team's 3-2 loss at San Diego on Sunday.
Friedrich will not have infielder Marco Scutaro behind him in this contest. The veteran was traded to San Francisco following Friday's defeat for minor league infielder Charlie Culberson.
"I really liked it here," said Scutaro, who had a hit Friday. "Unfortunately, the season didn't go the way we expected in the beginning."
This trade came one week after Colorado (37-61) sent pitcher Jeremy Guthrie to Kansas City in exchange for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez.
Carlos Gonzalez had two hits in the opener for the Rockies, who have dropped nine of 12. The All-Star is batting .431 during a 26-game home hitting streak.