With Joey Votto out, plenty of Cincinnati batters have stepped up to fill the void and keep the Reds atop the NL Central.
Having Johnny Cueto pitch every fifth game also helps.
Cueto looks to lead the surging Reds to a three-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday at Great American Ball Park.
After Jay Bruce , Scott Rolen and Zack Cozart homered in Friday's 3-1 win, Ryan Ludwick and Brandon Phillips each hit a two-run shot in Saturday's 6-2 victory. Cincinnati (54-40) has gone 4-2 since Votto learned he needed surgery for torn knee cartilage, and has won 10 of 12 overall to move a season-high 14 games over .500.
"Every day, we depend on somebody else," manager Dusty Baker said. "One of these days, we're going to get everybody out there. We've just got to keep it going."
The Reds improved to 6-2 against the Brewers this season. Bruce, who doubled and singled in a run Saturday, has been instrumental to that success, batting .310 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in the season series.
While Cincinnati has a half-game lead on Pittsburgh as it seeks its second division crown in three years, defending NL Central champion Milwaukee (44-49) has dropped a season-high 9 1/2 games out of first place.
"It's kind of the big blow, especially to the situation we're in," said Saturday's losing pitcher Yovani Gallardo . "I think every game coming in here was a must-win. Unfortunately, we've lost the first two."
Salvaging the finale seems like a tall order.
Cueto (11-5, 2.28 ERA) gave up four hits and four walks in six innings of Tuesday's 4-0 win over Arizona to move within one victory of matching his career high, set in 2010. He worked his way out of bases-loaded jams in the fifth and sixth innings despite a blister on his right index finger that caused his start to get pushed back two days.
"It didn't open up to bleed, but the skin came off of it a little bit," Baker said. "He got out of trouble, and that's the mark of a good pitcher."
Cueto has certainly looked like one lately, yielding two earned runs or fewer in six of his last seven starts. His 1.70 ERA since June 12 is the majors' fifth-best in that span.
His counterpart, however, is atop that list.
In six appearances - five starts - over that time frame, Mike Fiers (3-3, 2.01) has a 0.76 ERA. The rookie right-hander has held the opposition without a run in three of those starts, including Monday against St. Louis, which mustered four hits and four walks in seven innings versus Fiers.
"I'm just enjoying it right now," Fiers told the Brewers' official website. "Trying to throw up zeroes and give our team a chance to win."
Fiers didn't beat the Cardinals because former closer John Axford blew a ninth-inning lead in a 3-2 defeat. Two of his other recent strong starts were squandered because the Brewers were shut out.
A lack of run support certainly seems possible again, considering Cueto is 2-0 with a 2.53 ERA in five career home starts against Milwaukee. He also blanked the Brewers for seven innings May 9 at Miller Park in a game the Reds won 2-1.
Cueto has limited Ryan Braun to six hits in 25 at-bats while walking him only once.
|July 17, 2012||Ryan Braun||Day-to-Day||Right thigh strain|
|June 15, 2012||Shaun Marcum||15-Day DL||Right elbow tightness|
|June 02, 2012||Aramis Ramirez||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left quadricep|
|May 31, 2012||Ryan Braun||Day-to-Day||Tight Achilles|
|May 28, 2012||Jonathan Lucroy||15-Day DL||Fractured right hand, out 4-6 weeks|
|May 26, 2012||Cesar Izturis||15-Day DL||Strained left hamstring|
|July 16, 2012||Joey Votto||Day-to-Day||Torn meniscus, left knee - out 3-4 weeks|
|July 16, 2012||Joey Votto||15-Day DL||Torn meniscus, left knee|
|June 30, 2012||Joey Votto||Day-to-Day||Left game - left knee inflammation|
|June 28, 2012||Brandon Phillips||Day-to-Day||Head|
|June 12, 2012||Zack Cozart||Day-to-Day||Illness|
|June 06, 2012||Drew Stubbs||15-Day DL||Strained left oblique|
CINCINNATI (AP) -- When Johnny Cueto starts for Cincinnati, Wilson Valdez knows the Reds might not need much offense.
The veteran utilityman drove in the tying run and scored the go-ahead run to back Cueto's gritty pitching as the Reds wrapped up one of the best homestands in franchise history with a 2-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday.
"You know Johnny's not going to give up many runs," said Valdez, acquired by Cincinnati from Philadelphia in an offseason trade. "You know you might only have to score a couple of runs."
Cueto (12-5) matched his single-season career high in wins and lowered his ERA to 2.23 to lead the Reds to their eighth victory on the 10-game homestand. It's only the fifth time in franchise history that Cincinnati posted at least eight wins on a home stand of 10 or fewer games. The last time was in 1975, when the Reds went 8-1 on a homestand.
First-place Cincinnati sandwiched three-game sweeps of NL Central Division-rivals St. Louis and Milwaukee around a split of a four-game series against Arizona and maintained its lead over Pittsburgh in the division. The Reds, who lead the Pirates by a half-game, are 5-2 since learning that All-Star first baseman Joey Votto needed arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Manager Dusty Baker would prefer a perfect homestand, but he'll take what he got from this one, which boosted the Reds a season-high 15 games over .500 (55-40).
"We got off to a great start with the sweep of St. Louis and got a great end with this sweep," said Baker, who savored sweeping division foes. "That's real big. You know you can pick up ground or lose ground."
Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke was chagrined about being swept in a series the fourth-place Brewers considered to be crucial for staying in the race.
"It's not a good time to lose three games to these guys," he said. "It was a disappointing weekend. This sure set us back. When you're behind three teams, it's hard to catch up."
Cueto (12-5) overcame a 30-pitch first inning, which ended with Milwaukee leaving the bases loaded, to complete seven while throwing 117 pitches. He gave up eight hits and one run with one walk. He tied his season high with nine strikeouts and capped his day by getting NL home run-leader Ryan Braun to fly out to center field with two outs and the potential tying run on third in the seventh inning.
"I felt really well," Cueto said through interpreter and assistant trainer Tomas Veras. "I was aggressive on every pitch. In the first inning, I threw a lot of pitches. I was trying to throw fewer pitches after that. I always want to go into the seventh or the eighth inning."
Logan Ondrusek pitched the eighth inning. Aroldis Chapman allowed a two-out walk to pinch-hitter Carlos Gomez , who stole second, before Chapman earned his 17th save by striking out Braun.
Neither team hit a home run, snapping the streak of consecutive games in which at least one homer was hit at Great American Ball Park at 74. It was the longest active streak in the majors.
Milwaukee took a 1-0 lead in the third on Norichika Aoki 's leadoff double and, after strikeouts by Nyjer Morgan and Braun, a run-scoring opposite-field single to right-center by Aramis Ramirez .
The Reds capitalized on pitcher Mike Fiers ' throwing error to take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the inning. Chris Heisey singled with one out, stole second, and scored on Wilson Valdez 's single to right-center field. Valdez went around to third on Fiers' errant pickoff attempt and scored on Brandon Phillips ' sacrifice fly to center.
Valdez was going to third from the start, he said.
"I was going to take a chance," he said. "They have to have perfect execution. They have to get to the ball, they have to pick up the ball, they have to get into position to make the throw, and they have to throw the ball."
Fiers (3-4) lasted six innings, allowing five hits and two runs - one earned - with four strikeouts. He also hit a batter.
"It's frustrating," Fiers said. "You're trying hard to win. You get tired of losing. We didn't score a lot of runs, but I'm trying to keep Valdez close, and throw the ball away. I feel like we should still be playing."
NOTES: The Reds are 26-13 against Milwaukee over the last two seasons and 17-6 against the Brewers in Cincinnati over the last three seasons. ... RHP Mat Latos , who allowed a career-high 10 hits in his last start against Houston on April 29, gets a chance to improve on that when he faces the Astros on Monday at Minute Maid Park in the first game of Cincinnati's seven-day, six-game road trip. ... LHP Randy Wolf is scheduled to start for Milwaukee in the opener of a three-game series at Philadelphia. Wolf's win in his last start on Tuesday against St. Louis was his first in 13 starts since April 30.