CINCINNATI (AP) — Johnny Cueto spent most of the night bedazzling the Pittsburgh Pirates again.
Cueto allowed only six hits over 7 2-3 innings on Wednesday night, and Ryan Ludwick drove in three runs with a bases-loaded double, leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 5-4 victory over the Pirates that added to their NL Central lead.
“When he’s on the mound, you feel like you’ve got a good shot to win,” Ludwick said. “I’ve been on other clubs with pitchers like that. I don’t want to put any extra pressure on him, but that’s what he’s supposed to do.
“That was a nice team win — an important team win. That team is right behind us.”
The Reds won for the 12th time in 17 games and extended their lead over Pittsburgh to three games. The second-place Pirates lost for only the third time in their last 11 games.
Cueto (6-3) left with a 5-1 lead in the eighth. Andrew McCutchen hit a three-run homer off Logan Ondrusek two pitches later.
Aroldis Chapman retired the three batters he faced in the ninth for his sixth straight save, fanning Rod Barajas on a 101 mph pitch to end it. The left-hander hasn’t allowed an earned run in his 24 appearances this season, a club record.
“You got to see one of the reasons the Reds are in first place,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, referring to their Cueto-Chapman combination.
Ludwick’s double highlighted a four-run fourth inning off Brad Lincoln (3-1), making his second start of the season.
Brandon Phillips had a solo homer off Lincoln. Joey Votto extended his hitting streak to 12 games, longest by a Red this season.
The Reds were without center fielder Drew Stubbs, who pulled muscles in his left side on a swing Tuesday night. Manager Dusty Baker said he’ll be sidelined for at least a few days.
Lincoln has been the Pirates’ most versatile pitcher, making two starts and 13 relief appearances this season. He beat Miami in his other start on May 14, throwing 80 pitches in six innings of a 3-2 victory.
One long, tiring inning did him in against the Reds.
Phillips led off the Reds’ second with a first-pitch homer, the 52nd consecutive game at Great American Ball Park with at least one homer. It’s the longest active streak for any ballpark in the majors. The last homerless game in Cincinnati was July 29.
The Reds loaded the bases with one out in the fourth on a pair of singles and a walk. Ludwick doubled home three and came around on Ryan Hanigan’s single for a 5-0 lead. Lincoln gave up six hits and walked two in four innings, throwing 66 pitches.
The Pirates have trouble with Cueto, who improved to 12-4 against them in 18 career starts. A week earlier, Cueto gave up only five hits over seven innings while taking a 2-1 loss at PNC Park.
Cueto threw his first career shutout at PNC Park in 2010. He also had a complete-game win there on May 4, when he allowed seven hits and one run.
“This young man’s about as complete a package as there is in the league right now,” Hurdle said. “He’s got four weapons for pitches, he controls the running game as good as any right-handed pitcher in the league, he fields his position, he’s athletic, he can bunt, he went over 100 with his pitch count.
“It’s hard seeing him twice in a week when he’s on top of his game.”
Pittsburgh didn’t get a runner to second base until Barajas opened the eighth with a double. He scored on Neil Walker’s two-out single, ending Cueto’s outing at 118 pitches.
“Tonight I felt really good,” Cueto said, with a team trainer translating. “I felt strong with every pitch I had.”
NOTES: The Reds called up OF Kristopher Negron and optioned INF Mike Costanzo to Triple-A Louisville, giving them another option in CF while Stubbs is out. Negron caught the pregame ceremonial pitch. … Reds RH Mike Leake tries for his third straight win in the final game of the series, facing Kevin Correia, who is 7-2 career against Cincinnati. … Cueto picked McCutchen off first base in the fourth inning. The right-hander has picked off four runners this season. … McCutchen has 10 homers and 10 steals. … The 52 straight games with a homer at Great American is the longest since there were 63 straight games with a homer at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park in 2007-08, according to STATS.