Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto, right, hugs manager Bryan Price after throwing a three-hit, 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh Tuesday, April 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar/AP
The Atlanta Braves’ pitching staff is the best in baseball, and Julio Teheran’s recent contributions have been dominant.
Johnny Cueto has been even better lately for the Cincinnati Reds.
After David Hale turned in the latest gem for the Braves, Teheran will try to help them sweep this series Sunday while the Reds would love for Cueto to accomplish a very rare feat.
Atlanta (16-7) is atop the NL East thanks in large part to a 2.14 staff ERA, led by a rotation that’s at 1.65 – 0.71 lower than second-best St. Louis.
The Braves got another terrific effort on the mound Saturday, when Hale allowed one run and two hits in eight innings of a 4-1 win over Cincinnati (11-13). That came a day after a 5-4 victory in the opener, as Ervin Santana gave up four earned runs – the most allowed by any Atlanta starter this year.
While manager Fredi Gonzalez mulls Hale’s future with Mike Minor scheduled to return from the disabled list next week, Teheran (2-1, 1.80 ERA) will try to complete the Braves’ first series sweep of the Reds since May 2-4, 2008, at Turner Field.
Each of the right-hander’s last four starts has ended in an Atlanta victory, and he’s gone 2-0 with a 1.55 ERA. He’s been especially superb over the last two, tossing a three-hitter in a 1-0 win at Philadelphia on April 16 before yielding one run in seven innings Monday against Miami before the Braves won 4-2 in 10 innings.
"We’re just trying to keep our team in the game," Teheran said. "We’re doing a great job."
That certainly wasn’t the case in his only career meeting with the Reds on July 14, when Teheran surrendered five runs and two homers in 5 1-3 innings of an 8-4 home defeat.
Cincinnati hasn’t needed much to back Cueto (2-2, 1.38) recently. The right-hander has tossed back-to-back complete games, throwing a three-hitter in a 4-0 win over Pittsburgh on April 16 before doing it again to the Pirates on Tuesday in a 4-1 road victory.
Cueto now has a chance to become the first Red to string together three straight complete games since Jose Rijo did it bridging 1991 and ’92. Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee was the last to do it in the majors from June 16-28, 2011.
"He’s learned how to pitch, he’s a great competitor and he doesn’t give in to anyone," manager Bryan Price said. "For a guy who doesn’t look like a world-class athlete, he sure plays the game like one."
Cueto is 1-2 with a 4.15 ERA in five starts against Atlanta, including a complete-game defeat at Turner Field on May 29, 2011. He failed to go beyond the fourth inning in the most recent start there May 15, 2012, giving up six runs and eight hits.
Cueto will have to contend with Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman, who have combined for three homers and six hits in this series.
Upton has homered in both games, connecting for a solo shot – one of his three hits – Saturday. The left fielder has a .408 average over his last 14 meetings with the Reds, while Freeman is batting .375 with 10 RBIs in the past eight.
Cincinnati’s Joey Votto went 0 for 3 with a walk Saturday after doubling for one of his two hits Friday. He has reached safely in all 18 career starts at Atlanta, posting a .482 on-base percentage.