PITTSBURGH – Johnny Cueto tossed his second three-hitter against the Pittsburgh in a week and the Cincinnati Reds eased past the struggling Pirates 4-1 Tuesday night.
Cueto (2-2) struck out four and walked three while running his career-long scoreless streak to 21 innings before giving up a home run to Andrew McCutchen with one out in the ninth. He improved to 15-4 in his career against the Pirates and became the first Cincinnati pitcher to toss consecutive complete games since Mat Latos did it in June 2012.
Brayan Pena and Zack Cozart had consecutive RBI hits off Edinson Volquez (1-1) in the seventh to provide all the offense Cueto needed.
Volquez allowed two runs and five hits with a walk and three strikeouts.
The scene wasn’t nearly as electric as Cueto’s previous appearance at PNC Park, when the Cincinnati ace was pushed around early in a 6-2 loss in the National League wild-card game.
At one point Cueto dropped the ball while standing on the mound then immediately gave up a home run to Russell Martin as the standing room-only crowd lustily chanted the pitcher’s last name.
He lasted just 4 1/3 innings that night as the Pirates won their first postseason game in 21 years.
Six months later, the chants would be half-hearted at best.
Cueto never lost his grip on the ball, or the game.
Working quickly against a team he has dominated throughout his seven-year career, Cueto needed 117 pitches to get 27 outs and nearly became the first Cincinnati pitcher to post back-to-back shutouts since Hall of Famer Tom Seaver did it in 1977 before McCutchen’s home run into the second row of seats in right field in the ninth.
The Reds have won 6 of 9 after stumbling out of the gate while the Pirates have dropped 9 of 12.
Cueto upped his record to 9-2 at PNC Park, where the Pirates appear to be no closer to solving him now than they were when they first faced him in 2009.
Volquez, a former teammate of Cueto’s in Cincinnati, nearly matched his old friend. Signed to a one-year deal in the offseason hoping he can reclaim some of the form that made him an All-Star in 2008, Volquez has not disappointed.
The right-hander has been one of Pittsburgh’s biggest surprises and rolled through the Reds for six innings before Cincinnati broke through in the seventh.
Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier led off with consecutive singles and Bruce trotted home one out later when Pena laced a shot to right field. The burly catcher was ruled out at second on review while trying to stretch a single into a double, but Cozart followed with a sharp double to left to make it 2-0.
Cincinnati added insurance runs in the eighth and ninth, with Cueto providing the eighth RBI of his career with a single to right off reliever Stolmy Pimentel.
Cincinnati RHP Mat Latos still has not thrown since being scratched from a rehab start April 8 due to inflammation in his right elbow. Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said Latos is “feeling better” and could begin playing catch before the end of the week. … The Pirates have yet to name a starter for Thursday’s series finale. The team placed LHP Wandy Rodriguez on the 15-day disabled list on Monday with inflammation in his right knee. … The series continues today. Alfredo Simon (2-1, 0.86 ERA) starts for the Reds against Pittsburgh’s Charlie Morton (0-2, 4.32).