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SF@CIN: Cueto strikes out Fontenot for shutout

CINCINNATI -- When Johnny Cueto walked into the clubhouse Sunday morning, Dusty Baker presented a steep request: go nine. Cueto delivered, and then some.

"Not just a complete game but a shutout, too," Baker said. "That was masterful."

In what has been a season full of gems for Cueto, Sunday's effort could go down as the crown jewel. The right-hander allowed just three hits and four total baserunners as the Reds dominated the Giants, 9-0, to complete the sweep at Great American Ball Park.

It was the first shutout by a Reds pitcher since Homer Bailey tossed one in May of last season. It was also Cueto's third complete game of the season, although the other two ended in losses on the road.

Cueto, who missed the first month of the season with irritation in his right biceps/triceps, has now thrown 109 2/3 innings this year, making him eligible for the statistical leader board (one inning per team game played) for the first time this season. On the heels of Sunday's effort, his 1.72 ERA is the best in the Majors.

Cueto faced the minimum through five, and only once did San Francisco put a runner in scoring position. Brandon Belt drew a walk to lead off the sixth, and he advanced on Aaron Rowand's two-out single. Belt was stranded, though, when Cueto struck out Jeff Keppinger to end the Giants' lone threat.

Cueto seemed to get stronger as the game got longer. Facing Mike Fontenot, the last batter of the game, Cueto hit 96 mph twice and 95 once. Baker said Cueto's endurance is a product of conditioning; catcher Ramon Hernandez said it came from a refined approach.

"He's learning to pitch to contact early in the game," Hernandez said. "He's not trying to overpower anybody; he doesn't try to strike out every hitter."

Cueto finished with 6 strikeouts. Instead of trying to get Giants hitters to chase pitches, he pounded the zone. Of his 111 pitches, 82 were strikes. In his four-year career, prior to Sunday, Cueto found the zone about 62 percent of the time -- a 10 percent lower rate than he did against San Francisco.

"We just want him to go pitch and don't worry about anything and just be himself," Baker said. "He just keeps getting better and improving and improving and throwing strikes. He and Ramon are working great together."

In the first inning, the Reds gave their pitcher enough run support, and then some. Drew Stubbs, Edgar Renteria and Joey Votto led off with a trio of singles, the latter scoring Stubbs from second. Renteria then scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce drove Votto home with a single to center.

"We have to get up when we get punched and we didn't do it the last two games," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the team's first-inning woes. "But their guy threw well. I don't know how many teams would have hit him today."

Todd Frazier padded the lead in the fourth, when the rookie turned on Barry Zito's hanging curve and pulled the pitch into the left-field seats, giving the Reds a 4-0 lead and Frazier his first career home run.

Zito took the loss for San Francisco. He allowed five runs on eight hits before bowing out for a pinch-hitter in the top of the sixth.

Votto put the game out of reach in the seventh. With two on and no outs, the first baseman crushed a 3-2 fastball from reliever Guillermo Mota to dead center for his 17th homer of the year.

Since Baker gave him a day off Monday, Votto has been the toughest out on the team. He has gotten a hit in each of the last six games, going 10-for-25 with four home runs, two doubles and nine RBIs.

His most recent home run, coupled with Cueto's performance, erased all doubt about Sunday's game as the Reds got their first series sweep since taking three straight from the Dodgers in mid-June.

The complete game came at an opportune time for the Reds, who have been handcuffed by a worn-out group of relievers as of late.

"We needed it; our bullpen needed it," Baker said. "We needed a sweep. We kind of got everything today."

And then some.

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