One of the biggest reasons the Cincinnati Reds are atop the NL Central is their strong and reliable starting pitching.
Their best starting pitcher will get the ball for the opener of Saturday's day-night doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs , but in the nightcap their staff's extraordinary run of durability will come to an end.
Cincinnati (72-47) owns the majors' third-lowest staff ERA at 3.36, and has managed to use only five starting pitchers all season. The anchor of the rotation, Johnny Cueto (15-6, 2.45 ERA) is slated to start Saturday's opener.
That decision seems like a good one considering Cueto leads the majors with 10 day-game victories against no losses, and his 1.55 day ERA is the lowest among major leaguers with at least 43 innings pitched under the sun.
Going with Cueto may also save the bullpen for the second game. The right-hander went eight innings at Wrigley Field on Sunday, yielding three hits and two walks in a 3-0 win, his sixth victory in seven starts. He has a 0.63 ERA in two starts against the Cubs (46-71) this year, winning both.
"He has a heck of an idea what he's doing and he's as tough as anybody I've ever had on my team," manager Dusty Baker said.
After Cueto starts the opener, though, the Reds' streak of 120 games using only five starting pitchers - a modern franchise record - will conclude. Todd Redmond is scheduled to be recalled from Triple-A Louisville to make his major league debut in the second game.
The 27-year-old right-hander, acquired from Atlanta on July 14, has gone 2-3 with a 3.41 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 29 innings over five games for Louisville.
The Reds, who are six games up on second-place Pittsburgh in the Central, picked up right where they left off after taking three of four in Chicago last week, winning Friday series opener 7-3. Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier were the biggest catalysts to Cincinnati's success at Wrigley, and each homered at home Friday.
Ludwick is batting .400 with three home runs, two doubles and seven RBIs in the Reds' last five games versus Chicago, while Frazier is hitting .579 with two homers and eight RBIs.
Jay Bruce added his team-leading 25th homer Friday, giving him four in his last five games.
The Reds have won six of seven overall, and are a major league-best 28-9 since July 6."Usually, we've had big slides in the second half, and that's taken the wind out of our sails," Friday's winner Bronson Arroyo said. "This year, we feel like the ball's always rolling in your direction."
The Cubs, meanwhile, are a major league-worst 3-13 since July 31.
Starlin Castro has hit safely in eight of nine games, batting .353 in that stretch, but is 4 for 21 lifetime against Cueto.
Cueto will be opposed by Jeff Samardzija (8-10, 4.06), who matched a career best with 11 strikeouts in Monday's victory over Houston.
Samardzija has allowed one run and four hits over seven innings in each of his last two starts, and has permitted two runs or fewer in five of six outings since the All-Star break.
In his lone start against Cincinnati on May 2, the right-hander gave up one run and three hits while striking out seven in 7 2-3 innings of a 3-1 win.
In the nightcap, Brooks Raley (0-2, 9.00) is expected to make his third career start - and second straight against the Reds.
Raley was knocked around for seven runs in four innings of a 7-4 loss to San Diego on Aug. 7, but bounced back nicely in the loss to Cueto and Cincinnati on Sunday, yielding three runs in six innings. The runs came on a two-run homer by Bruce in the fifth and a solo shot by Ludwick in the sixth.
|July 28, 2012||Matt Garza||15-Day DL||Stress reaction, right elbow|
|July 21, 2012||Matt Garza||Day-to-Day||Left game - right triceps cramp|
|June 16, 2012||Ryan Dempster||15-Day DL||Right lat tightness|
|June 13, 2012||Ian Stewart||60-Day DL||Left wrist surgery|
|June 02, 2012||Blake Parker||60-Day DL||Stress reaction in right elbow|
|May 19, 2012||Welington Castillo||15-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
|August 01, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|August 01, 2012||Wilson Valdez||Day-to-Day||Left game - stiff neck|
|August 01, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|July 31, 2012||Brandon Phillips||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left calf|
|July 31, 2012||Bill Bray||15-Day DL||Lumbar muscle strain|
|July 16, 2012||Joey Votto||Day-to-Day||Torn meniscus, left knee - out 3-4 weeks|
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Ryan Ludwick and the Cincinnati Reds put together an impressive rally as they tried for a doubleheader sweep against the lowly Chicago Cubs .
It just fizzled at the very end.
Johnny Cueto pitched eight crisp innings to lead Cincinnati to a 5-3 victory in the opener on Saturday, but Brett Jackson and David DeJesus homered to help the Cubs hold on for a 9-7 victory in the second game.
Ludwick went deep twice and drove in three runs in the nightcap for the Reds, who had won seven of eight. Ludwick's fourth multihomer game of the season left him tied with Jay Bruce for the team lead with 25 homers on the year.
"It's tough to sweep a doubleheader," Ludwick said. "We had opportunities. They came out and scored a big run at the end. Our backs were against the wall, but we scratched and clawed and fought and gave ourselves a chance."
Cubs manager Dale Sveum was relieved after the second game.
"It's nice to come out with one," he said. "That Reds team battles. They battle with two strikes and never give in. That's why they're in first place."
The NL Central-leading Reds came out of the doubleheader with a 6 1/2-game lead over second-place Pittsburgh, but manager Dusty Baker was looking for more.
"Everybody knows it's tough to win a DH, no matter who you play," Baker said. "We had action, but they held us off. It's tough to come back when you're trading runs."
Jackson hit his first career home run to help Brooks Raley earn his first major league win, and Starlin Castro had three hits and two RBIs as the Cubs rebounded after losing the first two in the four-game weekend series. DeJesus added his fifth home run of the season in the ninth.
Raley (1-2) gave up four runs, three earned, and five hits in 5 1-3 innings.
"I'm fired up right now," he said. "I've got the game ball, and that's awesome, too."
The Reds won the opener behind Cueto, who allowed two runs and three hits. Todd Frazier also had a go-ahead homer for the second straight game.
The Cubs jumped all over Todd Redmond (0-1) in the nightcap. Redmond (0-1) gave up four runs and seven hits in 3 1-3 innings in his major league debut. He struck out two and walked five.
Redmond was the sixth pitcher to start for Cincinnati this season. The Reds used the same five starters for the first 120 games, a modern franchise record and a key reason for their surge to the top of the Central.
"I was amped up," said Redmond, who was acquired in a July trade with Atlanta. "That was my first major league start. I had some butterflies, but I settled down. I'm not a guy who walks people. I take pride in throwing strikes, so I was a little upset about that."
Jackson sparked the Cubs' 13-hit attack with a drive into visitors' bullpen down the right-field line on a 1-1 pitch in the second, making it 1-0.
"It feels good to cross that off my list," Jackson said.
Chicago built an 8-2 lead, then held on as the Reds battered its beleaguered bullpen. Carlos Marmol worked the ninth for his 15th save in 17 chances.
Cueto (16-6) struck out eight and walked none, drawing a standing ovation when he walked off the mound for the last time. He didn't allow a runner past first base after the first inning and retired 19 of the last 20 batters he faced.
Cueto is the first Cincinnati pitcher since Danny Jackson in 1988 to win 16 of his first 25 starts. He has won seven of his last eight appearances to move into a tie with Tampa Bay's David Price for the major league lead in wins.
"He was dealing," Baker said. "He has to be a serious candidate for the Cy Young Award. We don't talk about it, but that has to be in the back of his mind."
"I've got to keep working," Cueto said. "There's a lot of baseball to go before I can think about that."
Aroldis Chapman allowed two hits, a walk and a run - his first in 24 appearances - but held on for his 29th save.
Cubs slugger Alfonso Soriano drove a 3-2 pitch 433 feet into the second deck in left field with two outs in the first inning for his 22nd homer. The two RBIs gave Soriano 1,000 for his career.
Jeff Samardzija (8-11) gave up four runs and six hits in five innings for Chicago. He struck out five, walked none, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch.
NOTES: The Cubs are working on a new contract for SS Castro, but general manager Theo Epstein said nothing has been finalized yet. ... Both teams recalled pitchers from their Triple-A affiliates to start the second game of the doubleheader. The Cubs promoted Raley from Iowa, while the Reds recalled Redmond from Louisville. Neither team was required to send anybody out to make room. Major League Baseball rules allow teams to add a 26th player to their active roster for doubleheaders such as Saturday's, which was scheduled after a May 1 postponement. ... Soriano joined Barry Bonds , Andre Dawson , Willie Mays , Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield as the only major league players with at least 1,000 RBIs, 400 doubles, 350 home runs and 250 stolen bases in their careers.