THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CINCINNATI, Ohio — Jay Bruce called it a total team effort. Still, his contribution was too great to be ignored.
Bruce homered for the third consecutive game, drove in four runs and turned in one of Cincinnati’s four sterling defensive plays to back Johnny Cueto’s solid effort as the Reds beat the Houston Astros, 6-0 on Saturday.
"That’s what good teams do," said Bruce, who had a two-run homer, a two-run double and caught Jordan Schafer off first base for a double play after catching Jose Altuve’s flyball, ending the fifth inning.
"They execute. Johnny pitched great, the defence was awesome and we hit when we needed to," Bruce said. "It was perfect."
Brandon Phillips added two hits for the Reds, who’d lost two straight after winning the first two games of their current 10-day, nine-game homestand.
Cueto (3-0) wasn’t dominant, allowing five hits and a walk while hitting a batter and striking out just three over seven innings. But he was able to make enough quality pitches to keep in check an Astros team that hit .301 over the first four games of their six-game road trip. Manager Dusty Baker expects no less from Cueto.
"He competes," Baker said. "This guy comes to beat you."
Cueto had just enough to keep Houston in line, left fielder J.D. Martinez said.
"He was picky," Martinez said. "His fastball was moving and he was spotting up the majority of his pitches. I saw him pretty well, but he’s got that runner or cutter that moves."
Cueto survived a 24-pitch first inning in which the Astros loaded the bases before Matt Downs flied out to Bruce.
Logan Ondrusek pitched a perfect eighth inning and Aroldis Chapman allowed two walks and a hit to load the bases in the ninth before striking out Chris Snyder to complete Cincinnati’s second shutout of the season and Houston’s second shutout loss.
Besides Bruce’s double-play assist, shortstop Zack Cozart and third baseman Scott Rolen both turned potential infield hits into outs by throwing out runners at first while on the ground. Cozart also went a long way to reach into the stands and snatch pinch-hitter Brian Bixler’s foul popup leading off the eighth inning.
"We had great defence today," Cueto said. "They helped me a lot."
Houston centre fielder Shafer singled in the fifth to extend to 21 his streak of consecutive games reaching base to start the season, the longest by an Astro since Ricky Gutierrez had a 23-game streak in 1998. The club record is 25 by Denis Menke in 1969.
The Reds roughed up Houston starter Lucas Harrell (1-2), who allowed nine hits and six runs — five earned — with one walk and one strikeout in six innings.
The Reds wasted no time gaining an edge on Harrell. Joey Votto doubled into the left field corner with two outs in the first inning, and Phillips followed with a line drive triple to centre field that fooled Schafer and glanced off his glove, rolling to the wall. After Bruce walked, Rolen grounded an RBI single through the hole into right field.
They doubled the lead in the third, which Cozart started with a single to centre. Second baseman Altuve couldn’t handle Votto’s line drive and was charged with an error, and both runners scored on Bruce’s opposite-field double into the left field corner, where it squarely hit the yellow foul line painted on the green wall.
Bruce pushed the lead to 6-0 in the fifth, following Phillips’ one-out single with his third home run in three games and sixth of the season, a 417-foot shot into the right-field seats on Harrell’s first pitch. He fell one RBI short of matching his career high for a game.
NOTES: Houston expects to recall RHP Jordan Lyles from Triple-A Oklahoma City in time to start Sunday’s series finale. Lyles is 4-0 for the RedHawks. … Astros manager Brad Mills doesn’t expect 1B Carlos Lee to be available until at least Monday. Lee sprained his left ankle Friday. … Reds C Ryan Hanigan singled to lead off the fourth, extending his hitting streak to seven games (9 for 26, .346), the longest of the season among the Reds and one short of matching the longest of his career. He hit in eight consecutive games in 2009.