Cueto shines in rout over Bucs

Cueto shines in rout over Bucs

CINCINNATI -- Blister or no blister, getting comfortable wasn't difficult for Johnny Cueto Thursday night.

By the time Cueto got through the Pirates' lineup once, the Reds had already notched seven runs and all eight position players had reached base to give Cueto more than enough cushion in an 8-2 win at Great American Ball Park.

"We had a big offensive output, especially early in the game, which allowed Johnny to just relax and throw the ball the way he can," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

The Reds paraded hitters around the bases in the first two innings and chased Pirates starter Charlie Morton out early. All nine starters came to the plate in each inning, and everyone but Cueto reached base. In two innings, Morton threw 68 pitches and allowed eight hits and seven runs.

Meanwhile, Cueto kept rolling, throwing 101 pitches in six innings and allowing just three hits with nine strikeouts and two walks. The victory moved him to 5-1 with a 3.25 ERA for the season. In his last six starts, he's 5-0 with a 1.85 ERA.

Cueto was pulled from his last outing after six innings because of a blister, and the Reds kept a close eye on it again Thursday. He said he felt a little pain by the end of his outing, but the problem really only impacted his slider. With a comfortable lead, there was no reason to push Cueto any farther.

"They've been treating it, putting stuff on it, all kinds of stuff on it," Baker said. "So he got to that 100-pitch point, and it bothered him some on his slider tonight. So he didn't throw many sliders -- he threw mostly fastballs, changeups and cutters. But he threw a few sliders, and he'll be ready and feel 100 percent to throw all his pitches his next start."

But even with the questions surrounding Cueto's pitching hand, the Reds had little to worry about. Offensive contributions came from all over the lineup, led by back-to-back home runs by Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce in the first inning to build momentum early.

For Bruce, it marked his first home run since April 29, and came on the two-year anniversary of his Reds call up.

"I mean, I wasn't out there saying, "Yes, I hit my first homer in May today.' That's not the idea going in," Bruce said. "But it's always nice to hit homers, whenever you hit them."

And while first baseman Joey Votto missed his second consecutive game because of a stiff neck, Miguel Cairo once again stepped up in his place. Cairo went 3-for-5 with three singles for his first three-hit game since July 20, 2008.

"We were without Joey again tonight, we didn't have to use Arthur [Rhodes], which is big, and then Joey's replacement Miguel Cairo came in and got some big hits for us," Baker said. "It's always nice when the guys who don't play that much come in and contribute."

All of those contributions provided a backdrop for Cueto to continue his string of consistent, dominant outings.

The Reds (28-20) took three out of four from the Pirates and have won seven of their last eight series. Now eight games above .500, they (28-20) maintained a one-game lead over St. Louis in the National League Central Division.

It was just one week earlier that the Reds let an early 8-0 lead slip away in a ninth-inning collapse at Atlanta. While the bullpen allowed a pair of runs Thursday, the complete effort led by Cueto ensured the Reds would have no repeat performance. And even with the blister, Cueto had no problem staying comfortable.

"We learned a valuable lesson to never get comfortable in Atlanta," Baker said. "So just keep grinding, keep grinding and keep playing the full nine innings."

Matt Brown is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.