Although the Cincinnati Reds are running away with the NL Central, there are some growing concerns for Dusty Baker 's club. Their offense is suddenly sputtering, and ace Johnny Cueto seems like he's hit a wall.
Cueto tries to avoid losing three straight starts for the first time in three years, while the visiting Reds look to bounce back from one of their worst offensive showings Saturday night against Mark Buehrle and the Miami Marlins .
Cincinnati (87-58) mustered three hits and three walks in the series opener Friday, snapping a three-game winning streak with a 4-0 loss. The Reds only had two runners get to second base as they were shut out for the third time, fewest in the NL.
"We didn't put any pressure on those guys, which is a little disappointing," losing pitcher Bronson Arroyo said.
The Reds still own a double-digit lead over second-place St. Louis with 17 games to play, but there are some areas where they must improve.
Cincinnati has been limited to two runs or fewer in six of 10 games after failing to reach the three-run mark just twice in its previous 24. Cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick and slugger Jay Bruce have been in the middle of this funk, with Ludwick batting .192 in his last seven games while Bruce is mired in an 0-for-17 slump.
Cincinnati's rotation has been anchored by Cueto (17-8, 2.71 ERA), a leading candidate for the NL Cy Young Award, but he hasn't been pitching up to his lofty standards lately.
After allowing four runs over seven innings in losing to Philadelphia on Sept. 3, Cueto gave up four runs and nine hits in a season low-tying four innings of a 5-1 defeat to Houston on Sunday. He was 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his previous four starts, and his 2.48 ERA at the end of August was the best in the NL. He's since dropped to third in that department.
"Sometimes you just have a couple of bad outings. That's what it looks like to me," Baker told the Reds' official website. "He's never been this close to 20 (wins) and the Cy Young . There are probably things running through his head. We'll have to have a little sit down conference with him, and get him back to being Johnny Cueto pitching."
Questions have been raised about his workload, as his 192 2-3 innings are already a career high, but Cueto insists he's not running out of gas.
"I have three more outings," said the right-hander, who hasn't lost three straight starts since July 25-Aug. 4, 2009. "I'm just going to try to keep working hard."
Cueto hasn't faced the Marlins (64-81) since Cincinnati's opener April 5, when he gave up three hits in seven innings of a 4-0 win.
Buehrle (12-12, 3.74) lost to Cueto in that game after allowing two runs and seven hits in six innings. He is 2-1 with a 1.29 ERA in three career starts against the Reds.
The left-hander gave up three runs and five hits in seven innings in Saturday's 7-6, 10-inning loss to Washington. It was the seventh time in Buehrle's last 10 starts the Marlins lost.
Greg Dobbs hit his fifth homer Friday as Miami snapped a three-game skid. He's batting .414 with five RBIs in his last eight contests but has just one hit - a home run - in seven career at-bats versus Cueto.
Manager Ozzie Guillen tweeted a profanity in reference to a reporter following Friday's victory, another blemish in what has been an embarrassing season for the Marlins.
|September 08, 2012||Zack Cozart||Day-to-Day||Strained left oblique|
|August 31, 2012||Kristopher Negron||15-Day DL||Torn right ACL - out for season|
|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|
|September 14, 2012||Carlos Lee||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained neck|
|September 04, 2012||Heath Bell||Day-to-Day||Sore left foot|
|August 22, 2012||Emilio Bonifacio||60-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
|August 13, 2012||Nick Green||15-Day DL||Sprained left thumb|
|August 04, 2012||Emilio Bonifacio||15-Day DL||Sprained left thumb|
|August 04, 2012||Donnie Murphy||15-Day DL||Left hamstring strain|
MIAMI (AP) -- A little numbness wasn't going to keep Carlos Lee out of the lineup.
Lee jammed his neck Friday night sliding headfirst into second base and colliding with Reds shortstop Wilson Valdez . He felt some numbness in his fingers so he left the game. He made the most of his return on Saturday.
Lee homered and drove in three runs and the Miami Marlins beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-4.
"When I left here I told the trainer I'm not day-to-day, I'll be ready tomorrow," said Lee, still sporting a cut on his right cheek from the collision. "I hit the ball pretty good."
Mark Buehrle (13-12) allowed four runs on seven hits over 7 2-3 innings to improve to 4-1 in his last six starts. Jose Reyes had three hits and also drove in a run for Miami.
"Fortunately, we scored some runs early and I just tried to go out there and keep them off base," Buehrle said.
Johnny Cueto (17-9) suffered his third straight loss and failed to last five innings for the second straight start. Cueto gave up six runs on nine hits in 4 1-3 innings, and hasn't won since August 28 at Arizona. Ryan Ludwick homered for the Reds.
"He lost location. He was wild high, missing away," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "And when he came in throwing strikes, it was middle of the plate, belt high. Those are the ones that hurt him."
The Marlins chased Cueto with a three-run fifth, capped by a two-run homer by Lee, who hit a 3-1 pitch over the center field scoreboard that gave Miami a 6-2 lead. The homer followed Reyes' double that scored Justin Ruggiano .
"It was one bad pitch," Cueto said. "It's part of the game."
The Reds made it 6-4 on Ludwick's two-run homer off Buehrle in the eighth. Buehrle was then replaced by Mike Dunn . Steve Cishek pitched a scoreless ninth for his 14th save in 18 opportunities.
Trailing 3-0, the Reds closed to 3-1 when Valdez singled in Ryan Hanigan in the third. Cincinnati picked up another run in the fourth after Jay Bruce tripled, then scored on a single by Scott Rolen to make it 3-2. It was Bruce's first hit in 18 at-bats.
The Marlins jumped on Cueto for three runs in the first inning. After Ruggiano and Reyes hit consecutive one-out singles, Giancarlo Stanton drove in both with a triple. Lee then drove in Stanton with a sacrifice fly.
"I think we did a good job trying to make him (Cueto) throw the ball over the plate and we made him work a couple innings," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We ran the bases very well and took advantage of a couple extra bases. Obviously, Carlos' home run was huge. It gave us a little cushion."
NOTES: Buehrle has now pitched 188 1-3 innings to close in on his quest to eclipse the 200-inning mark for the 12th straight year...Reyes has an eight-game hit streak against the Reds. ... Cincinnati rookie SS Zack Cozart , on the DL since Sept. 3 with a left oblique strain, took batting practice on Saturday. ... The Reds bullpen hasn't given up a run in 17 innings over the last five games.