CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto had just labored through six innings and 108 pitches Sunday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.
When he returned to the dugout in the middle of the sixth with the score tied 3-3, he made a request of his teammates. "I told them, 'I want three runs here,'" Cueto said. "They did that for me."
The anticipated low-scoring pitchers' duel between Cueto and Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg didn't transpire Sunday, but a three-run outburst in the sixth at Cueto's bequest helped lift Cincinnati to a 6-3 series-clinching victory before 32,514.
Reds right fielder Jay Bruce, who's beginning to break out of his early season slump, had a two-run double in the first and Xavier Paul, making the start to add another left-handed bat against Strasburg, went 2 for 4 with two runs scored, as Cincinnati finished its season-opening homestand by taking two of three from the Angels and Nationals.
Kurt Suzuki went 3 for 4 with a homer, two doubles and three RBIs for the Nationals.
Both Strasburg and Cueto, who combined for 34 wins last season, lacked command Sunday, combining for 222 pitches and nine earned runs allowed in 11 1/3 innings.
"Both guys didn't have their best stuff," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We scored three (in the first) and you think that's enough with Cueto on the mound. But then they scored three. It was going to be one of those days."
Cueto (1-0) allowed three earned runs and seven hits while striking out six.
Strasburg (1-1) was coming off a strong Opening Day outing in which he allowed just three hits in seven shutout innings. But Cincinnati made things rough for him Sunday.
The Reds loaded the bases without hitting the ball into the outfield with infield singles by Paul and Brandon Phillips and a walk to Joey Votto. Bruce then lined a double to left center off Strasburg, putting the Reds ahead 2-0.
"He left that one up a little bit," Bruce said. "You have to take advantage of his mistakes."
A third run scored on Todd Frazier's groundout. "This is a tough ballpark to pitch in," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "You don't want to leave the ball out over the plate because any hitter in the lineup can hit it out of the ballpark. There's a little more pressure here."
Strasburg needed 23 pitches to get through the first inning.
"I want to go out there and go deep into the ballgame," Strasburg said. "You don't want to just have a couple of long innings with a lot of pitches early that is going to spoil your outing."
Suzuki tied the score in the second with a three-run homer on a 1-and-1 pitch from Cueto. He hit only six homers all of last season. Suzuki also doubled in the fourth and ninth innings.
Cincinnati, which had exhausted its bullpen during the homestand, needed a strong outing from Cueto. But he mostly labored through his six innings.
"You're not always going to have your best stuff," Baker said. "That's the sign of a good pitcher to be able to battle without your best stuff."
After a rocky first, Strasburg allowed just three hits in the next four innings with five strikeouts.
"I just settled down," he said. "I started locating better."
But the sixth was another story for Strasburg. Derrick Robinson singled for his first major-league hit and later scored from third to put the Reds ahead. Phillips and Bruce both had RBI singles in the inning to make the score 6-3.
Cincinnati's bullpen then held the Nationals at bay. Left-hander Sean Marshall made his season debut with a scoreless seventh. Closer Aroldis Chapman struck out two in the ninth for his second save.
"It was a big game today," Strasburg said. "I wanted to go out there and give it everything I had but it just didn't work out for me. I thought we did a good job of getting back in the ballgame. It just didn't seem to work out for me in the sixth inning."
NOTES: Nationals 1B Adam LaRoche did not start for the second consecutive game due to lower back stiffness. Chad Tracy played first base and batted fifth for the second straight day. LaRoche remains 0 for 13 to start the season, the worst start of his career. LaRoche is expected to return Tuesday. .. Marshall, who has been battling shoulder fatigue, made his season debut pitching a scoreless seventh with one strikeout. ... Suzuki started Sunday's game in continuation of Johnson's plan to alternate starts between he and Wilson Ramos.