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.
Entering Monday, Milwaukee's Corey Hart has gone 19-for-66 (.288) this month. Over the past three years, he has had success against the Phillies, going 22-for-68 (.324) with five home runs and nine RBIs.