MILWAUKEE -- Reds manager Bryan Price gave a quick thumbs-up gesture to Johnny Cueto before walking out to the mound in the eighth inning Wednesday at Miller Park. It meant Cueto wasn't coming out of the game.
In the biggest moment of the night, with Cueto's pitch count elevated, the tying run at third and a left-handed bat at the plate, it stood to reason that Cueto might exit, leaving him shy of his first win in 2015 despite a 1.86 ERA.
"When I got to the top step, he was looking at me like, 'Please don't come out and take me out of the ballgame,'" Price said. "I kind of gave him the thumbs-up, [meaning], 'Hey, I'm not gonna, so don't panic out there.' I never wavered. I never thought I'd be taking him out in that situation."
The maneuver paid off handsomely. Cueto struck out the Brewers' Adam Lind on his career-high 125th pitch, and the Reds scored a go-ahead run in the top of the ninth to give Cueto (1-2) a victory in the 2-1 win over the Brewers.
Cueto saved his biggest pitches for last. After allowing his first extra-base hit of the night, a leadoff double by Logan Schafer in the eighth, the Brewers moved the runner to third with a sacrifice bunt. But Cueto struck out Elian Herrera and, after a walk to Ryan Braun, finished the deal against Milwaukee's cleanup hitter. The pitch count eclipsed his previous high of 124, achieved in 2010.
"There's not 30 No. 1s like a Johnny Cueto-type pitcher in the Major Leagues," Price said. "There's 30 No. 1s, but not 30 legitimate No. 1s. I think managers tend to give those guys more leeway, whether it's [Clayton] Kershaw or [Madison] Bumgarner or whoever it is. The tendency is to let them work out of their late-game jams, even if their pitch count is a little higher than you'd like. He's earned that right to be in that situation. I don't want him throwing 125 pitches every five days, but in that situation, I never thought of taking him out unless he was tired."
Far from it, in fact. After settling into a groove of 91-, 92-mph fastballs Cueto's heater was coming in at 95 and 96 in the eighth, the first time Cueto had surpassed seven innings in his four starts this season.
"He works during the week and the only thing that comes out of his mouth is, 'I have to work for that eighth inning, for that seventh inning,'" catcher Brayan Pena said. "He knows those are the very tough innings, and he prepares himself for that. He throws those extra pitches in the bullpen just for that inning. When he came out of the game, he said, 'You see? That's why I work hard.' Honestly, I was behind home plate and I was impressed when he was throwing 95 and 96 miles per hour, because I thought he was out of gas."
Cueto has worked at least seven innings in all four starts this season. He allowed one run on five hits in his eight frames Wednesday, striking out eight and walking two.
The win was especially rewarding considering the Reds had scored only four runs of support all season to that point with Cueto on the hill. The fifth came when Billy Hamilton scored on a wild pitch with two outs in the ninth.
"Johnny is one of the best pitchers I've seen," Hamilton said. "For him to come out here and pitch the way he does and us not to get a couple wins for him is on us, because he'll come out here and give his best every night. He said last time, 'Next time, I'll give you eight innings.'"
The only run that scored on Cueto came in the first, when a balk moved Herrera into scoring position, allowing Lind to tie the score at 1 with a soft single through the right side.
It was the first of two balks called on Cueto by first-base umpire Angel Hernandez, who also assessed one in the second inning. Cueto committed just one balk all of last season and became the first Reds pitcher to commit two in one game since Chris Hammond in 1990.
"The interpretation from our understanding was he was buckling his front knee," Price said. "When you start a pickoff move as a right-handed pitcher, it has to start with the right foot. He's got a great move, great quick feet. In the end, we won the game. It's never been an issue before, I don't anticipate in being an issue in the future."
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.