Johnny Cueto is off to the best start of his career, and a meeting with the Pittsburgh Pirates may just keep him rolling.
Cueto looks to match his longest unbeaten run as the Cincinnati Reds open a three-game road series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night.
Cueto (3-0, 1.39 ERA) has won all five decisions with a 2.28 ERA over his last 12 starts dating to a road loss to the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 6.
Cincinnati (12-12) has won 10 of the right-hander's starts in that stretch, including four of five in 2012.
Cueto's longest unbeaten run in his four-plus years in the majors is a stretch of six winning decisions over nine starts from April 30-June 12, 2010.
Cueto, among baseball's ERA leaders this season, tossed another gem Saturday by scattering five hits in seven innings of a 6-0 win over Houston.
He's done a lot of that against the Pirates (11-14), going 10-3 with a 2.70 ERA and winning six consecutive decisions with a 1.64 ERA in his last seven starts at Pittsburgh. That includes a one-hitter on May 11, 2010.
Cincinnati has won three of four, but was 5-10 against the Pirates last year.
Pittsburgh is opening a nine-game homestand after concluding a 3-4 trip in impressive fashion with Thursday's 6-3 win at St. Louis. The Pirates' staff totaled 17 strikeouts for their highest total since getting 18 in a 20-inning win over the Cubs on July 6, 1980.
Strikeouts are likely to be at a premium for the Pirates as Kevin Correia (1-1, 2.42) takes the mound looking to rebound from his worst performance of the season.
The right-hander has nine strikeouts in 22 1-3 innings over four starts, failing to get any in a 4-3 loss at Atlanta on Sunday. It was his shortest outing of 2012, as he was pulled with one out in the fifth after allowing three runs with five walks.
Correia, though, is 6-0 with a 4.26 ERA in 10 career starts against Cincinnati.
The Reds were in an offense funk -- one run and six hits in their last 17 innings -- when they got a gift Thursday from the Cubs.
Chicago closer Carlos Marmol, staked to a 3-0 lead, walked the first two batters of the ninth. The Cubs committed an error. Marmol walked another. The Reds were on their way to a three-run ninth to tie it at 3-3, and they ended up winning 4-3 in 10 innings on Scott Rolen's sacrifice fly.
"It didn't good look there for a while," Rolen said. "Homer (Bailey) kept us in it. We put together a bunch of good at-bats at the end. After you come back and tie the game in the ninth, the only thing left to do is win it. Nice win. It will be a happy flight to Pittsburgh after the way the first eight went."
The victory gave the Reds a 5-3 homestand.
"That's a big win right there," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Five-and-3 at home sounds a lot better than 4-4."
With the offense struggling, the Reds showed great patience against Marmol.
"Sometimes he's throwing strikes, and then he's practically unhittable," Baker said. "The key is to swing at strikes and make him throw balls. We don't have a whole lot of guys who hit him well."
CF Drew Stubbs, on a 0-for-14 overall skid, was out of the lineup Thursday. "Drew was going pretty good," manager Dusty Baker said. "Now, he's kind of scuffling. We want to stop before it gets chronic."
SS Zack Cozart singled and scored the winning run in the 10th inning after entering Thursday's game in the top of inning as defensive replacement. "That's what being on the bench is all about," Cozart said. "Obviously, I've been playing pretty much every day. It's tough. You're just sitting there. All of a sudden, Dusty (Baker) says, 'Get ready to run, get ready to hit or you're going in at shortstop.' There's a lot of different stuff you have to do."
RHP Homer Bailey went six innings and allowed three runs on nine hits in a no-decision against the Cubs. He walked one and struck out four. "We won. That's what's most important," Bailey said. "Whether I get the win or someone else gets the win, we get the win. To me, that's what's most important."
OF Chris Heisey and the rest of the Reds have been taking extra bunts during batting practice. Heisey put down a sacrifice that keyed the Reds' winning rally in the 10th inning. "Part of my thought process was: I better get this down or we're going to have bunt more. It's more fun to hit," Heisey said.
INF Miguel Cairo (strained left hamstring) began his rehab assignment with Class A Dayton on Thursday, going 0-for-4. He's expected to join the Reds on Monday in Milwaukee.
By The Numbers:
0—That's how many times starting pitchers faced each other on their birthdays in major league history before Reds RHP Homer Bailey and Cubs RHP Ryan Dempster did so Thursday. Bailey turned 26, Dempster 35.
Quote To Note:
"You think I don't know that?"
—3B Scott Rolen, when someone mentioned that he was on a pace to play in all 162 games.