Cueto, Reds blank Nationals 1-0
CINCINNATI -- With the Cincinnati Reds sorely in need of a victory, right-handed ace Johnny Cueto overcame heat, humidity and some weakness to help snap his team's seven-game losing streak.
Catcher Brayan Pena's RBI single in the fifth provided the offense, and Cueto pitched seven shutout innings, lifting the Reds to a 1-0 victory over the Washington Nationals on Saturday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.
Cueto (11-6) allowed just four hits and three walks, striking out nine over 103 pitches. He was throwing 91-92 mph early on, then reached 97 in the latter innings.
"I felt without strength (early in the game)," Cueto said through interpreter Tomas Vera. "It was hot and humid, but that's normal. I started to breathe better, slow down a little bit. I was painting the pitches where I wanted."
Aroldis Chapman pitched 1 1/3 innings for his 22nd save.
Cincinnati (52-51) had not won since the All-Star break and had dropped four and a half games in the National League Central standings.
"Most teams are going to go through a stretch like this," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "You just hope it doesn't occur in September and take you out of the race. Everyone in this building feels better after today's game. Today was a good start for us."
Washington (56-45) leads the NL East, with the Atlanta Braves right behind.
Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez (6-6) was solid as well on Saturday, giving up one run and four hits, with two walks and eight strikeouts, over seven innings.
"When he throws strikes early on, he settles in really nice," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "His curveball was good today. Johnny Cueto's a pretty good pitcher. We just couldn't muster (any offense)."
Reds outfielders robbed the Nationals of extra-base hits in each of the first two innings.
Center fielder Billy Hamilton made a leaping grab of first baseman Adam La Roche's drive in the first.
In the second, right fielder Jay Bruce made a running catch of catcher Wilson Ramos' liner then threw to first baseman Todd Frazier to double up left fielder Bryce Harper.
"Guys hit balls like that in this yard all the time and it usually hits off the wall or goes out of the yard," Harper said. "So nothing I can do about it. I thought I definitely would have scored if it's over his head. Bruce made a great play and came up firing."
It was the first of two baserunning blunders by Harper, who was retired in a rundown between second and third, preventing the Nationals from having runners at first and second with one out in the seventh.
"He's aggressive, trying to make something happen," Williams said. "He just got caught."
Cincinnati broke through against Gonzalez in the fifth when left fielder Chris Heisey doubled, stole third and scored on Pena's single.
"When we took the lead, it was just one run, but you could see that Johnny was going to take over for us," Heisey said. "Pitching and defense wins."
"(Cueto) always just asks for one run," Pena said. "He has so much confidence in what he does. Even when he's scuffling a little bit, he finds a way to come back. He was mixing it up."
Washington had runners on first and second with two outs in the eighth. Chapman entered the game and got La Roche to ground out.
Shortstop Ian Desmond walked to begin the ninth but was caught stealing. Chapman then fanned the final two batters.
"It's what's made us successful, and most teams successful -- pitching and defense," Price said. "We don't need to be dynamic offensively. Today was a good start for us."
NOTES: It was the 16th 1-0 game in the 12-year history of Great American Ball Park. ... It's just the fourth time in the ballpark's history that two straight games have been played without a homer. ... Reds RF Jay Bruce has 63 outfield assists since 2008, fourth in the major leagues. ... Reds INF Jack Hannahan, on the disabled list since spring training while recovering from shoulder surgery, took batting practice and fielded ground balls before the game. When he's activated, Hannahan will serve as a left-handed bat off the bench and get starts at first base. He was 8-for-14 in his past four minor-league rehab appearances. ... Nationals C Wilson Ramos went 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to six games. ... The Nationals fell to 9-41 this season when scoring three runs or fewer.