CINCINNATI -- The Milwaukee Brewers' listless offense proved to be no match for Johnny Cueto on Saturday night.
The Cincinnati Reds' dreadlocked right-hander was zeroed in from the start and, aside from a couple of mistakes to Aramis Ramirez and Mark Reynolds, dominated the Brewers in a 6-2 victory at Great American Ball Park.
Cueto (3-2) was every bit as solid as Wily Peralta was one game earlier for the Brewers, allowing just three hits, two earned runs and a walk while striking out 10 in an eight-inning, 114-pitch gem.
Cueto, who leads the National League with 60 strikeouts, also helped himself with a little bit of offense, driving in the Reds' fourth run in the sixth inning.
"We got two hits until that eighth inning," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We got an (infield single), but he wasn't in the stretch until the eighth inning.
"His changeup is fantastic. His fastball is great, he throws a cutter, he commands the ball great. Didn't throw as many curveballs as he usually does. But those three pitches were great."
The Brewers, who have been without the injured Ryan Braun for a week and will need to make do without him for at least another seven games, have scored three or fewer runs in four consecutive games and more than five runs only once since April 11.
The Brewers certainly have run into their fair share of solid pitching in that span, including the previous series in St. Louis and Cincinnati's Mike Leake on Friday. But Cueto might have been the best the Brewers have seen yet.
"We knew we were going to have a tough time when we faced him," said Roenicke. "We were hoping we'd get a great pitching performance to match him and then we'd see what happens."
While his 2-2 record coming in wasn't anything special, Cueto's 1.15 earned-run average was.
He proved to be tough from the outset against the Brewers offense that already had been scrapping. Perhaps the biggest example was Ramirez, who was mired in a career-high-tying 0-for-28 slump before he took Cueto deep to left to open the second inning.
Ramirez entered the game a .333 career hitter against Cueto with four homers, and his fifth gave Milwaukee a 1-0 lead it would take into the fourth.
"That was nice," said Roenicke. "He needed that, and we certainly needed it. Hopefully he gets it going."
Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo was cruising along, allowing just one hit -- a Todd Frazier single -- and no other hard-hit balls before the wheels fell off. After breaking Joey Votto's bat on a groundout, Gallardo allowed singles to Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce before hitting Frazier with a pitch to load the bases.
Ryan Ludwick singled to left on the next pitch to score Phillips and tie the game at 1-1. One pitch later, Brayan Pena singled to left to score Bruce and Frazier and give Cincinnati its first lead at 3-1.
Cueto made his next mistake in the fifth and it again cost him as Reynolds led off with a towering homer to left-center that made it 3-2.
Cincinnati tacked on another run against Gallardo in the sixth, which proved to be his last inning. Ludwick and Pena singled to put two on for Cueto. With two outs, he slapped a single into right to score Pena and give himself a bit more breathing room at 4-2.
Gallardo departed after closing out the frame having allowed season highs in hits with nine and earned runs with four. Gallardo also walked one and struck out one in falling to 2-1.
Gallardo's one strikeout was his fewest since fanning one last July 30 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, a game he left in the fifth inning due to injury. It also marked only the fifth time he has struck out just one in 186 career starts.
"Yo wasn't quite on today," Roenicke said. "Battled again, kept us in it but wasn't quite on. Didn't throw any curveballs for strikes. Fastball located OK and his cutter, but he was a little off.
"Two outings ago (his curve) was as good as I've ever seen it. So we need to get that pitch back. He's got to have something that's off-speed that they have to worry about instead of everything hard.
"It's different when you're Cueto. I mean, if he throws 95-96 with a 90-mph cutter, that's a pretty good combination. And now he throws in the great changeup."
With Cueto still rolling along and silencing the Milwaukee offense, Tyler Thornburg got the call out of a now-rested bullpen. Having allowed just one run coming in -- in his initial appearance April 1 -- he proceeded to give up a pair in the seventh.
Phillips and Frazier both doubled to account for the first, and a Thornburg wild pitch allowed the second to score to extend the Reds' lead to 6-2. Thornburg's ERA jumped from 0.61 to 1.72.
Milwaukee managed just one hit -- a Jean Segura infield single -- and two base-runners over the final four innings with Cueto departing after eight and Sam LeCure coming in to finish the Brewers off in the ninth. It was Cueto's fourth consecutive start of at least eight innings.
"At the end of the day, a loss is a loss," said Reynolds, who is now tied for the team lead with Carlos Gomez in homers with seven. "But some losses mentally hurt more than others. Today we just ran into a good pitcher. You can't do anything about it. You just move on and get ready for tomorrow."
Might it be time to shake things up a little with the lineup to try to jump-start the offense?
"Obviously we're not swinging the bats that well," said Roenicke. "But the combination of what we have -- we put in some more left-handers today with (Caleb) Gindl and (Logan) Schafer -- I thought it would be a little bit better against Cueto.
"It's hard what to say what to do with the lineup. The guys are playing enough. If somebody's hot, they're going to be in there more. But just as a group, we'll get it going."
Louisa Boardman 5/8 Assistant Sports Editor
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