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
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
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.