The Cincinnati Reds haven’t won since before the All-Star break and ace Johnny Cueto will have to avenge his worst loss of the season to get them back on track.
The right-hander seeks his sixth victory in seven decisions and will try to end Cincinnati’s seven-game losing streak Saturday against red-hot leadoff man Denard Span and the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.
After closing the first half with a 7-2 stretch, the Reds (51-51) remain without a post-break victory following Friday’s 4-1 loss at Great American Ball Park.
Cincinnati, at .500 for the first time since June 24, hasn’t lost eight in a row since July 28-Aug. 4, 2009. The slide has dropped the Reds six games out of first place in the NL Central after they trailed by 1 1/2 at the break.
Alfredo Simon failed to pick up his 13th win in the series opener and the Reds now turn to another All-Star to try ending the skid.
Cueto (10-6, 2.18 ERA) is 5-1 with a 2.56 ERA in his last eight starts and ranks among major league leaders in both ERA and strikeouts (148). Opponents are hitting just .184 against him, the lowest average in the majors.
Cueto, however, failed to go six innings for only the third time when he allowed two runs and walked four over five against the New York Yankees on Sunday. He did not factor in the decision in a 3-2 loss at Yankee Stadium.
"I’ve never seen Johnny go 112 pitches in five innings," catcher Brayan Pena told MLB’s official website.
The best place for Cueto to regroup is at home, where he’s 7-3 with a 1.93 ERA over 11 starts. He’s 3-1 despite a 5.34 ERA in five career home starts versus Washington.
In his only meeting with the Nationals (56-44) this year, Cueto gave up a season-high eight runs – six earned – over 5 1-3 innings in a 9-4 loss at Nationals Park on May 20.
Span went 3 for 3 off him in that contest, and he was 4 for 5 Friday to record his second straight four-hit game. He’s also 18 for 36 in his last eight contests and has gone 13 for 21 in four against the Reds this season.
"He’s been great," manager Matt Williams said. "The key for him is hitting the ball back through the middle."
The Nationals, playing without injured third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, have averaged 5.8 runs and batted .301 while winning seven of nine to move 2 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta in the East.
Gio Gonzalez (6-5, 3.74) is coming off one of his shortest stints Sunday, when he surrendered three runs over just 3 1-3 innings in a 5-4 home win over Milwaukee in his first start following the All-Star break.
"It’s one of those games where you have to brush under the rug," the left-hander said. "Nine days off, it didn’t help."
Gonzalez is 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA with 32 strikeouts over 27 innings in four career starts versus Cincinnati. In his only career start at Great American Ball Park, he allowed two runs with nine strikeouts over five innings in a 7-3 victory in 2012.
The Reds, who are without injured slugger Joey Votto, have totaled only 13 runs while hitting .176 during their losing streak. Shortstop Zack Cozart went hitless in the opener, leaving him in an 0-for-17 slide.
"It’s just really a mental game," manager Bryan Price said. "When we were going good before the break, nobody was pressing. Now, everybody’s pressing."