Johnny Cueto got a little closer to being playoff ready.
The right-hander pitched seven solid innings on Tuesday night, and the Cincinnati Reds stayed in the chase for the NL’s top record by beating the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2 after learning they’ll be without their manager for the rest of the week.
Dusty Baker met his players before the game and revealed he suffered a mini-stroke in addition to being treated for an irregular heartbeat at a Chicago hospital last week. Bench coach Chris Speier will manage the series against Milwaukee and three games in Pittsburgh during the weekend, giving the 63-year-old Baker time to rest.
Doctors expect Baker to make a full recovery. He could resume managing the final series in St. Louis next week.
”We’re concerned about him and his health,” third baseman Scott Rolen said. ”We’re worried about Dusty. That’s the bottom line. You take care of life first.”
Until Baker returns, it’s up to Speier to get them ready for the playoffs. Cueto (19-9) looked the part, allowing five hits and two runs in seven innings, including Aramis Ramirez’s solo homer.
Cueto’s left hamstring tightened as he ran the bases in the second inning, but he stayed in the game.
”He scared the daylights out of us when he came up limping while running the bases, but he was fine after that,” Speier said. ”He didn’t want to come out after the seventh, but there’s a risk-reward there, and we didn’t think the risk was worth it.”
Cueto got his 17th win in August, then dropped three straight subpar starts. He gave up 14 runs in only 15 1/3 innings during those three games, raising questions about whether the right-hander was tiring out. He was back in form last Thursday, pitching six shutout innings in Chicago for his 18th win.
Against the Brewers, he didn’t allow a runner to second base until Carlos Gomez doubled with two outs in the fifth inning. Jean Segura singled to score Gomez, but was thrown out trying to advance to third on the throw to the plate.
”If I keep working and doing what I need to do, I should be OK,” Cueto said, with a trainer translating. ”I thank God I’ve been able to put those bad starts behind me. I went back and watched some videos. I saw some problems and was able to correct them.”
Left-hander Aroldis Chapman hit 100 mph on the radar gun while pitching a perfect ninth inning for his 36th save in 41 chances. It was his first time in the closer role since Sept. 10, when he developed a tired shoulder.
The Reds have 93 wins for only the second time since 1975-76, when the Big Red Machine put together back-to-back World Series titles. The 1999 team won 96 games but failed to make the postseason after losing a one-game playoff to the Mets.
The win left them tied with Washington for best record in the majors and the top seed in the NL playoffs.
”We have a chance at 100 wins and we have a chance at the best record in baseball, and that’s huge,” said outfielder Jay Bruce, who doubled home the final run.
The Brewers dropped back-to-back games for the first time in more than a month, costing them ground in the wild card race with time running out.
”It’s not a good time to do it,” manager Ron Roenicke said. ”It’s certainly looking a lot tougher. We’re going to have to get some big-time help.”
The Brewers fell 4 1/2 games St. Louis for the final NL wild card spot. The 2011 NL Central champions had played their way back into contention for the postseason by winning 25 of 32 before dropping the last two.
They got no break from the Reds, who clinched the division title on Saturday night and rested four of their regulars the following day. Speier went back to his usual lineup on Tuesday.
Mike Fiers (9-9) gave up nine hits and four runs in 4 1/3 innings. The Reds put together four straights hits to open the second, loading the bases in three singles. Dioner Navarro singled for a 2-0 lead.
Zack Cozart opened the fifth with a triple that caromed off the wall in center, and Joey Votto and Bruce doubled for a 4-1 lead.
NOTES: Cueto picked Rickie Weeks off first base in the first inning, his team-high ninth pickoff of the season. … After two more games in Cincinnati, the Brewers finish the season with six home games – three each against Houston and San Diego. … The Brewers hadn’t dropped back-to-back games since Aug. 18-19, when they lost two against Philadelphia. … Ramirez’s homer was his 338th as a third baseman, moving ahead of Ron Santo for sixth on the all-time list.