Pirates-Reds Preview

The Cincinnati Reds have risen to the top of the NL Central

mainly by taking care of divisional rivals.

Their inability to beat the division’s perennial doormat is

threatening to push them out of first place.

Reds starter Johnny Cueto will try to continue his superb return

from injury and help Cincinnati avoid a two-game sweep at home to

the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday afternoon.

A 5-0 loss Wednesday dropped Cincinnati (25-18) to 1-4 in the

season series with the Pirates (19-23), who have finished last in

the Central four years running. The Reds are 19-7 against the rest

of the Central, and lead St. Louis by one-half game atop the

division.

After batting .315 in their previous eight games, the Reds

managed just five hits Wednesday as they saw their five-game

overall winning streak and seven-game run at home come to an

end.

Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen homered for the Pirates, who

snapped a six-game skid.

With Cueto (2-0, 0.00 ERA) starting, Cincinnati has a good

chance to bounce back and post its 12th win in 15 games. The

right-hander is 7-0 with a 1.74 ERA in his last nine starts against

Pittsburgh and has not allowed an earned run in his first two

outings since returning from irritation in his pitching arm.

Cueto allowed five hits over six scoreless innings May 8 in

Chicago, then gave up three unearned runs Saturday while pitching

into the eighth inning of a 7-3 victory over St. Louis.

“He looked great,” manager Dusty Baker told the Reds’ official

website. “He’s been working hard. He’s running every day and doing

what it takes to get in shape and stay in shape and be strong and

be able to go deep in ballgames, which is what he did.”

The Reds could also get a boost Thursday if Jay Bruce is able to

return from illness.

The right fielder, who sat out Wednesday’s loss, was 6 for 15

with two home runs against the Pirates from April 15-18, and is a

.356 hitter in 22 career home matchups with Pittsburgh.

However, Bruce, was one of the few Cincinnati hitters who failed

to take full advantage of a struggling James McDonald (2-3, 6.20)

during an 11-2 rout April 16. He went 1 for 4 with a walk in that

game, while Ramon Hernandez was 3 for 4 with four RBIs.

Hernandez, who is batting a team-best .353, might get another

chance to face McDonald and extend his major league-best hitting

streak to 12 games after resting Wednesday.

McDonald, who gave up seven runs over 4 1-3 innings in his only

start against the Reds, struggled again Friday in Milwaukee after a

string of strong outings.

The right-hander gave up five runs, six hits and three walks

over four innings of a 5-2 defeat. He had been 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA

in his previous three starts.

Pirates shortstop Ronny Cedeno, batting .346 in his last 17

games, is 5 for 16 in his career against Cueto.