WASHINGTON -- It was supposed to be a pitchers' duel between right-handers Max Scherzer and Johnny Cueto, but it turned out to be a one-sided affair as the Reds blanked the Nationals, 5-0, at Nationals Park on Wednesday night.
Cueto, one of five candidates up for the Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote, was almost untouchable. He went the distance for the shutout, allowing two hits and striking out 11. At one point, he struck out five straight hitters, while retiring his final 15 batters in a row and 17 of his last 18.
"Yes, sure, I wanted to finish the game," Cueto said via translator Tomas Vera. "I felt so relaxed tonight. I felt so good tonight that I wanted to show I could finish the game.
Having tossed three complete games in his last four starts, Scherzer had his worst outing of the season, lasting 4 2/3 innings and allowing five runs on seven hits. It's the first time Scherzer did not go at least six innings this season.
"I just didn't have it today," Scherzer said. "I missed my location, a few pitches to the wrong hitters. They made me pay for it. The Reds are a great team with great hitters. A game like today, they made you pay for it. This is not one of these days where you beat yourself up. You don't have it. When you think you have it and you don't make pitches, that's when you started throwing chairs."
With the victory, the Reds are 5-0 against the Nationals this season, while Washington has lost two straight.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Votto breaks out:Joey Votto already had an RBI hit when he came to the plate in the third and slugged a 1-1 Scherzer pitch for a one-out solo homer deep into the right-field bullpen. It was Votto's 15th homer of the season, but his first since June 13 vs. the Cubs. Since that game, he was batting .211 (15-for-71) with three RBIs. Votto finished a triple shy of the cycle and drove in three.
"I left fastballs over the plate for him," Scherzer said. "His first AB was a fastball, It was away, but it was up. He is a good enough hitter to where he was sitting on it. He was able to turn on it. The home run pitch was right down the middle. He is good enough he is going to smash it. The changeup -- he is probably sitting on it. That's how he gets three hits." More >
Nats' bats missing: The Nationals' best chance to score occurred in the fifth inning. Ian Desmond led off with a triple, but Cueto struck out the next three hitters -- Matt den Dekker, Taylor Jordan and Michael Taylor --- to end the threat.
"We kind of fell into the trap of letting him dictate our timing. He does a good job of doing his little wobbles and his quick pitches and all that. It kind of throws you off," Clint Robinson said. "He doesn't make mistakes. We kind of let him in there tonight. He threw a good ballgame. We definitely didn't help ourselves in a lot of at-bats."
Turning two: Cueto had retired eight in a row before walking Bryce Harper to begin the bottom of the fourth. After that, Wilson Ramos reached on Todd Frazier's error to put runners on first and second. Robinson then bounced to second baseman Brandon Phillips, who passed on the tag of Ramos and got the sure out of Robinson by throwing to Votto at first base. Votto then saw Ramos had stopped before reaching second and threw over to get Ramos in a rundown for the double play that helped squash an early chance for Washington.
"It was very big," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We were able to score a little early on Scherzer, which was great. Obviously, the way he's been pitching and his history as a guy that can throw a shutout as easily as anybody else, it was big to score early. Knowing we had our ace, that double play shut down the rally and gave us a chance to add on even more."
Scherzer doesn't get much help: A key error by Dan Uggla on Phillips' leadoff single set the stage for a two-run first that saw Votto hit an RBI double and Jay Bruce follow later with an RBI triple. The Nats did limit the inning by getting Bruce at home plate, but after going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, the damage was already done.
"Today he was unbelievable. Today he really was making a statement. I don't know what he was thinking, but he really was on a mission today. And he accomplished it. Today was impressive. He was hungry. He was very, very excited about the start, and man, I've never seen anything like that coming from him. From this year and last year, I think this was one of those he really wanted it. It was fun to behind home plate." -- Reds catcher Brayan Pena, on Cueto
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Cueto has allowed one run over his last 17 innings in two starts. Tuesday marked the first time in his career that he struck out at least 11 batters while giving up two or fewer hits.
WHAT'S NEXT Reds: Rookie Michael Lorenzen will be tasked with helping the Reds sweep the Nationals for the second time this season when they play again at 7:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Lorenzen is coming off one of his poorer outings of the season, lasting only four innings vs. the Brewers.
Nationals: Washington tries to salvage the three-game series as left-hander Gio Gonzalez looks to win his seventh game of the season. In his last two starts, Gonzalez has allowed one earned run over 14 innings and struck out 10 batters.