"I've never seen Johnny go 112 pitches in five innings," catcher Brayan Pena said.
Cueto did not provide the type of shutdown stopper work the Reds needed to avoid the sweep and leave town on a positive note. Although he allowed two runs on five hits, he walked a season-high-tying four batters, with seven strikeouts.
"He wasn't real sharp, and it was a little bit more of a conservative strike zone today," manager Bryan Price said. "One thing about this [Yankees] club ... that's no different from years back, they have a pretty good understanding of the strike zone. They don't stretch it out very much early in the at-bat. You have to throw the ball over the plate."
Home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez did seem to have a tight strike zone all afternoon, though Cueto and Pena did not put the outcome on Hernandez.
"That's part of the game," Cueto said via translator Tomas Vera. "What I have to do when things like that happen is make my adjustments."
The Reds took a one-run lead in the top of the fifth, but the lead was short-lived, as the Yankees scored twice in the bottom of the frame. Back-to-back one-out walks proved costly, as Derek Jeter's lined single to right field scored Kelly Johnson and a Jacoby Ellsbury RBI single to right field plated Brett Gardner to make it a 2-1 game.
"They made the adjustments against me," said Cueto, who got two strikeouts to escape the fifth. "I was making a lot of pitches. And a lot of my pitches were near the strike zone, but there's nothing I can do."
When Price visited the mound during the fifth-inning jam, he spoke to Hernandez for an extended period -- apparently about the strike zone.
Cincinnati did not get a quality start from any of its three starters during this series. Like Cueto, fellow All-Star Alfredo Simon went only five innings during Saturday's 7-1 loss.
"I'm not going to make excuses," Pena said. "The game is not [the umpire's] decision. I wish some things would have been more [our] way. I do have to give [the Yankees] a lot of credit. I was behind home plate [and saw] how hard they worked Johnny. They really did a good job working Johnny and fouling some pitches off. They got his pitch count very high."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.