When the Reds needed a big performance from their ace, they got one.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto throws against the Washington Nationals in the first inning of a baseball game on Saturday, July 26, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/David Kohl)
David Kohl / AP
By Kevin Goheen
CINCINNATI --Johnny Cueto wasn't feeling so hot as he headed out to the Great American Ball Park mound Saturday afternoon. The temperature was a balmy 85 degrees but Cueto didn't feel as strong or as focused as he'd like.
Everyone should feel so off.
Cueto overcame his early inning funk to strike out nine and shutout Washington on four hits over seven innings as the Reds snapped their seven-game losing streak with a 1-0 victory over the Nationals. It was the first quality start by a Reds starter since the All-Star break.
It was the kind of performance one comes to expect from Cueto, who is now 11-6 on the season with a 2.08 ERA. It was his 19th quality start in 22 outings this season and it was the sixth time he's gone at least six innings without allowing a run.
"I was really dizzy and I felt like I had no strength at all," said Cueto through interpreter Tomas Vera. "But after the fourth inning things came back to normal and I tightened things up a little bit and you saw what happened."
Cueto is prideful when it comes to his craft. Seven innings is a minimum day's work he wants to put in but he hadn't gone that far in his previous three starts. He equaled a season-low with five innings in his last outing last Sunday at New York against the Yankees. He gave up just two runs in that game but had to throw 112 pitches and walked a season-high four batters.
The Reds backed Cueto with three stellar plays on defense in the first two innings. Center fielder Billy Hamilton recovered after initially misreading a line drive off the bat of Adam LaRoche in the first inning with one out and two runners on base. Todd Frazier, starting at first base, and Cueto combined to end the inning when they got Ian Desmond on a tricky hopper. Jay Bruce made a running grab in the right-center field gap to rob Wilson Ramos of extra bases and then doubled up Bryce Harper who was already around second base and couldn't get back to first in time to beat the ball and Frazier to the bag.
Washington had managed 10 or more hits in its last eight games but Cueto allowed them to get as far as second base just two more times in his final five innings.
Cueto needed to be as good as he was because Washington's Gio Gonzalez was equally as sharp. The only run of the game came on a one-out RBI single by catcher Brayan Pena in the fifth inning to drive in Chris Heisey from third base. Heisey, who had been caught attempting to steal in the second inning, led off the fifth with a double to left field and then stole third base with Pena at the plate.
It was just the fourth hit for the Reds in their last 48 at-bats with runners in scoring position covering the last eight games. Heisey said the steal of third was called from the bench. The lead, just the third one for the Reds in the last eight games, further energized Cueto. He came out in the top of the sixth inning and struck out Anthony Rendon swinging, Jayson Werth looking and Adam LaRoche swinging.
It was the second time in the game Cueto struck out the side in an inning.
"He came out in the sixth inning and he was amped up," said Heisey. "You could tell he was determined to get us that win and for the next two innings he locked them down."
Arguably the worst start of Cueto this season came at Washington on May 20. He allowed eight runs (six earned) on six hits in 5 1/3 innings in a 9-4 loss. That was an aberration start. Saturday was the typical Johnny Cueto.
The Reds have been involved in seven 1-0 games this season. Saturday was the fifth one at GABP. It was the third one involving Cueto. They are now 2-5 in those seven games, and 1-2 in the games Cueto has started. Nine of his 22 starts have ended up as one-run games. Cueto is going to be involved in a lot of close games simply because as the No. 1 pitcher in the Reds rotation he's going to be matched up against the top pitchers of other teams.
"He's one of those guys who asks for the best," said Pena. "He asks for the best pitcher out there. He asks to face the best club out there because he like the challenge, he likes the competition. He likes to prove himself even more that he wants to be that guy and you have to respect the heck out of a guy like that who always wants to be ready for whatever that challenge is. It says a lot about him. He always gives you that championship effort."