Reds-Astros Preview

The Associated Press

Sunday was a rather up-and-down day for the Cincinnati Reds.

The Reds will look to bounce back from a blown lead as Johnny Cueto returns against the Houston Astros on Monday night.

The Reds' lead in the NL wild-card race dropped to 4 1/2 games over Washington after they failed to hold four-run seventh-inning lead Sunday in a 6-5 loss at Milwaukee. Four relievers gave up a run apiece, with Zach Duke surrendering a walk-off home run to rookie Sean Halton in the bottom of the ninth.

"That is probably as crushing of a defeat as we've had all year," starter Bronson Arroyo said.

The pain of Halton's home run was exacerbated by Jay Bruce's near three-run homer in the top of the frame, which was robbed by Carlos Gomez.

"We can still finish strong, but that is not going to take away the sting we feel today," manager Dusty Baker said. "You have to feel the sting today and get over it tomorrow because we have another series tomorrow. This does hurt. It really hurts."

After losing for the fourth time in six games, the Reds (84-66) will be happy to see Cueto make his first start since June 28.

Cincinnati's ace with a 19-9 record and a 2.78 ERA in 2012, Cueto (4-2, 3.33 ERA) was having a similarly successful 2013 season before a strained right lat muscle caused him to miss 2 1/2 months.

"He appears relatively ready from what we've seen," Baker told the team's official website. "It's worth the effort because he's Johnny Cueto. The more we get out of him tomorrow, the more we get out of him the next time, and who knows where he's going to be ready come playoff time."

Baker said Cueto would have a pitch count.

"It's kind of like a spring training game to get him ready," Baker said. "That gives us a tremendous boost."

He'll start in place of Tony Cingrani, out with a back injury. Baker said Cingrani may join the team for its weekend series at Pittsburgh.

Cueto, meanwhile, will try to pick up his third win in 13 starts against the Astros. He earned his second victory against Houston on April 28, 2012, with seven scoreless innings but was then tagged for four runs and nine hits in four innings of a 5-1 loss on September 9, 2012.

Cueto will face an Astros team that scored three runs over the final two games of its weekend series against the Los Angeles Angels. Houston had scored 34 runs and batted .336 over a prior four-game winning streak.

Erik Bedard (4-10, 4.47) will also be making his return to the rotation, but under slightly different circumstances. The left-hander was moved to the bullpen after he went 0-6 with a 4.53 ERA in his last nine starts for the Astros (51-98). He was most troubled by wildness as he walked 31 in 49 2-3 innings.

Bedard looked strong on Sept. 8, however, pitching four scoreless innings out of the bullpen in a 7-2 loss at Oakland.

Manager Bo Porter told the Astros' official website that he welcomes the chance to be part of the postseason hunt starting Monday, even though his team is on the verge of becoming the first club to reach triple figures in losses in three consecutive seasons since Kansas City from 2004-06.

"I think it's good for our players to look to the other side of the field and see the type of intensity that those teams and their fans are going to bring to the ballpark with a playoff berth hanging in the balance," Porter said.

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