Reds ace Johnny Cueto put his teammates on his back Sunday in his return from the disabled list — in the literal and figurative senses.
Cueto survived a collision with third baseman Jack Hannahan in the third inning. Both players charged a grounder, and Hannahan ran into and over Cueto’s back as Cueto fielded it and threw late to first. Cueto lay on the grass for a long few seconds before getting up, and Hannahan put his arm around Cueto as he walked back to the mound.
That was one of the few scary moments for Cueto. He gave up one run, no walks and five hits in six innings and also drove in a run in a 5-1 victory over the Brewers at Great American Ball Park.
“He was excellent,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “We thought we could take him about as far as we could take him. It was a good game. We were just trying to scratch out as many runs as we could.”
Off to their best start through 70 games since 1995, the Reds (42-28) won the series 2-1 and trimmed the Cardinals’ lead to 2½ games because St. Louis lost 7-2 to the Marlins. Cincinnati moved to a season-high 14 games over .500 for the fifth time in the last three weeks.
In his first start since May 31, Cueto made only one big mistake, giving up a home run to Jean Segura in the first.
“The first inning, I was thinking too much,” Cueto said. “I was trying to be perfect and locate pitches and make sure nothing happened.”
Backup infielder Cesar Izturis offered words of advice to Cueto after the inning.
“You’re good,” Izturis said. “Do what you have to do.”
After being blanked 6-0 Saturday, the first home shutout loss since 2011, the Reds offense came to life in the second, in part because of Cueto. He laid down a squeeze bunt to score Xavier Paul and tie the game.
A groundout by Brandon Phillips scored Zack Cozart with the go-ahead run in the third, and one batter later, Jay Bruce hit a 469-foot home run, the 18th-longest in GABP history. Bruce now has a team-high 12 home runs.
Donald Lutz, the hero on Mother’s Day with a three-run home run against the Brewers, drove in the final two runs on Father’s Day with a single in the sixth.
“I said they should only play me on the holidays,” Lutz said, “because something good happens all the time.”
The Reds’ recently beleaguered bullpen got a boost, too, because Alfredo Simon took over for Cueto and pitched the last three innings. He allowed only two hits and struck out six and earned his first save.
“What a job by Simon,” Baker said. “We all thought the day of the three-inning save was dead, but he saved my bullpen today. He did a great job without a whole bunch of pitches. He could probably come back in two or three days.”
Pirates at Reds, 7:10 p.m., FS Ohio, 700, 1410