After opening the season in dominating fashion, Johnny Cueto began to drift toward mediocrity.
The Cincinnati Reds are hoping he’ll excel again after missing his past two starts.
Cueto returns Tuesday night to take the mound against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Cueto (3-4, 3.03 ERA) went 1-2 with a 4.45 ERA in his last four starts, raising his season mark up from 1.95. The right-hander hasn’t started since May 19, though, missing two starts with elbow inflammation after giving up three runs and a season high-tying nine hits over seven innings in a 3-0 loss at Kansas City.
An MRI last Tuesday showed no structural damage, and Cueto completed a bullpen session Sunday without issue.
"We haven’t had any setbacks since he started throwing, so I don’t think we anticipate any issues with recovery, but after much time off, it just makes sense to make sure the elbow doesn’t flare up," manager Bryan Price told MLB’s official website.
Cueto is 1-4 with a 5.52 ERA in eight career starts versus Philadelphia, losing the last two and only winning June 28, 2010. He has averaged 3.17 runs of support this season.
The Reds (22-27) appear poised to back him offensively after scoring 21 runs in a three-game sweep of Washington and winning four of five after nine straight losses. Cincinnati scored two runs or fewer six times during the losing streak.
Todd Frazier is 11 for 22 over his last six with four homers and seven RBIs, and his 16 home runs are the second-most in the NL.
"Hitting is contagious," Frazier said. "It is the same with hitting with runners in scoring position. It is a mindset. Let the pitches come to you and attack."
The Reds still have to end a seven-game road losing streak, during which they’ve scored 12 runs.
Philadelphia (19-33) has dropped a season-worst seven in a row, going 7 for 48 with runners in scoring position. The bullpen has also been disastrous, giving up 12 runs over 19 2-3 innings.
Starter Sean O’Sullivan (1-4, 4.81) comes off a rough 7-0 loss against the New York Mets on Wednesday, giving up all of those runs along with 11 hits in 5 2-3 innings. O’Sullivan surrendered four homers, one less than he allowed through his first five starts.
"Seven runs is equally frustrating no matter how they get them," he said.
The Reds have hit seven home runs in their last four games, though they’ve hit only one in their last seven on the road.
O’Sullivan didn’t record a decision in his only start versus Cincinnati, yielding one run over six innings in a 2-1 victory for San Diego on July 29, 2013. Marlon Byrd is 3 for 5 with a homer and two doubles against him.
Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce has seven home runs and 17 RBIs during a 14-game hitting streak versus Philadelphia, and he’s hitting .378 over his last 13 contests overall.
The Phillies have won 19 of the last 26 meetings in Philadelphia since the start of the 2008 season.
This teams will play again in Cincinnati next week for a three-game series.