Cueto steps up to play stopper for Reds

Ace holds Padres to four hits over seven scoreless innings

Cueto steps up to play stopper for Reds

CINCINNATI -- Reds ace Johnny Cueto knew a strong start was required vs. the Padres on Sunday. Cueto was more than willing to put the pressure to deliver squarely on his own shoulders, but he appreciated receiving some backup.

During a smooth 4-0 win over the Padres after the Reds dropped the first two games of the series, Cueto provided nine strikeouts over seven innings. He allowed four hits and two walks.

"I'm feeling really well with the way things went today. We need this," Cueto said via translator Tomas Vera. "That's what I'm here for. We need this for the team. We need this because we need to get up. I want my team to stand up and continue doing this. It's what we needed."

It's been a rough week for Cincinnati (24-31), which lost four games, three after the bullpen blew leads late. That included Cueto's previous start on Tuesday at Philadelphia, where he was left with a no-decision after six strong innings.

In the two starts since returning from right elbow stiffness that cost him a turn in the rotation, Cueto has given up two runs (one earned) over 13 innings.

Cueto initially labored vs. San Diego with two walks and two hits in his first two innings. But he kept his opponent off the scoreboard as the Padres went 0-for-8 overall with runners in scoring position.

"The first two innings, he was really challenged," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "They got his pitch count up, they laid off some high pitches and he was struggling to get the ball down in the zone a little bit. He made a really good adjustment in the third inning. It was a lot cleaner. The outs came more quickly."

Following Matt Kemp's two-out double in the third, Cueto retired 13 of his final 14 batters. Pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne slapped a leadoff double in the top of the fifth before Cueto retired the side in order -- with two strikeouts.

"Absolutely you need a guy, every team needs that guy to come out and play stopper and you can hand the ball to him and say, 'Hey man, basically go dominate.' And he did today," said right fielder Jay Bruce, who hit two homers for all four runs that supported Cueto's effort.

Bruce's two-homer game

Cueto threw 103 pitches in the game and was lifted after the seventh. Price opted for reliever J.J. Hoover in the eighth, and he pitched a perfect inning. Had he not dealt with the elbow issue recently, Cueto likely would have continued.

"I don't think there's going to be a lot of great limitations in his next start," Price said. "But it made sense. He had thrown beautifully. It gave Hoover a chance to start the inning clean with nobody on base. It definitely put to rest the thought that we might be overextending him and creating a setback by kind of work overload. It wasn't a hard decision to make."

Cueto is 4-4 with a 2.64 ERA and a .0945 WHIP in 11 starts this season.

"My goal today was to stop what's been happening the last few days," Cueto said. "I feel proud because my teammates came in and backed me up on what I was planning and doing today. It feels good when they back you up."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.