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Cueto solid after shaky second in victory over Nats

CINCINNATI -- Even if Sunday's marquee matchup against Stephen Strasburg did not live up to the hype, as both aces labored Sunday, Johnny Cueto was not lacking for moxie. Cueto demanded that his Reds lineup pick him up against the Nationals.

Following his sixth and final inning of work, Cueto saw some teammates in the dugout.

"I said, 'Hey listen, I want three runs here,'" Cueto said via translator Tomas Vera. "And they did it for me. They did it like that, thank God."

A three-run bottom of the sixth came right on cue as the Reds handed the Nationals a 6-3 loss while winning two of three games in the series.

Third baseman Todd Frazier was one of the teammates Cueto was talking to.

"I was screaming there with him," said Frazier, who was 1-for-3 with an RBI groundout in the first inning. "It was pretty funny. He was saying it in Spanish, but I understood what he was saying, and I just kept on laughing."

For Reds fans clamoring for Billy Hamilton to be called up, their need for speed might be satisfied by Derrick Robinson. Called on to pinch-hit for Cueto in the sixth, Robinson slashed a single on the ground past drawn-in third baseman Ryan Zimmerman for his first big league hit to set up the winning rally.

Robinson's speed helped create the go-ahead run, as he was trying to steal second base before seemingly flying to third on a Shin-Soo Choo single to center field. With the infield in, Xavier Paul followed with a grounder to second. Danny Espinosa fired a good throw to the plate, but the sliding Robinson's foot touched the plate ahead of catcher Kurt Suzuki's tag.

"I was going on the ground, anywhere in the infield," Robinson said. "Instinct kicked in as soon as I saw it. My type of game, I've got to use [speed] as much as possible."

"Speed kills," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Usually, speed doesn't go into a slump. It seems like there's not as much speed as there has been in this game. I love speed."

With two outs, Brandon Phillips sent a RBI single into left field that scored Choo, and Strasburg was finished. Against Ryan Mattheus, Jay Bruce bounced an infield single to shortstop and reached without a throw as Paul scored to give Cincinnati some breathing room. Nine batters came to the plate during the rally.

Working 5 1/3 innings, Strasburg had one of his worst starts as his six earned runs allowed were one short of his career high, and his nine hits tied a career high. He also walked four, one intentionally, and struck out five while throwing 114 pitches. Last season, the hard-throwing Strasburg was 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA in 28 starts before he reached his innings limit and was shut down a month early.

The Reds had not faced Strasburg since his much-ballyhooed 2010 rookie season.

"He was just a pitcher. He's good, don't get me wrong. We're good too," Frazier said. "We put pride in ourselves and understand it's another pitcher out there."

Cueto, who is 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA after two starts, allowed three runs and seven hits over six innings, with three walks and six strikeouts while throwing 108 pitches.

Staked to a 3-0 first inning lead, highlighted by Bruce's nice two-strike hitting for a two-run double to left field off of Strasburg, Cueto let the advantage evaporate quickly as he labored during a 30-pitch top of the second. Suzuki's three-run homer on a 1-1 slider with one out evened the game just like that.

"I don't want to give excuses. The second inning, I wasn't feeling as well," Cueto said, describing his shoulder. "I wasn't really 100 percent."

The Reds bullpen was taxed from lots of work lately, so Cueto knew he had to soldier on for better or worse. His pitch count was up to 39 through two innings and 51 through three.

"I really saw that and said, 'I want to at least finish five or six innings, maybe more,'" Cueto said. "Then I started working on that."

Cueto gave up only a walk and two doubles in his final four innings. In the fourth with runners on first and third with two outs, he struck out Jayson Werth to escape.

"Both guys didn't have their best stuff," Baker said. "That's the sign of a good pitcher. You're not always going to have your best stuff. If you do, the game would be easy. You would be Sandy Koufax if you always had your best stuff. You have to find a way."

After the schedule-makers did Cincinnati few favors with April's slate, the Reds are off to a 4-2 start of the season with series wins over the Angels and Nationals.

"We're a tough team too," Bruce said. "They came in here thinking the exact same thing. It's about execution. It's not taking anything away from those guys. I feel like both of those teams will be there in the end. We expect to be as well."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
Read More: Cincinnati Reds, Johnny Cueto, Jay Bruce, Derrick Robinson