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CIN@WSH: Votto belts a solo homer in top of first

WASHINGTON -- It's kind of the way things have been this season. Johnny Cueto had another dominant performance, but still had to wait with baited breath to see if a victory was his reward.

By the skin of their teeth, the Reds hung on for a 2-1 win over the Nationals on Wednesday. This after Cueto took a five-hit shutout into the bottom of the ninth.

"I have to tell you I felt really strong today," Cueto said through an interpreter. "Since I was in the bullpen warming up, I felt really, really good today."

The reason the game was so tense and not a cruise for Cueto? His offense was 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 men on base. And the Nationals had a bases-loaded rally in the ninth.

But for eight innings, Cueto was masterful. He gave up the one run on six hits with no walks and five strikeouts. His scoreless-innings streak ended at 15 over his last two starts. Needing only 2 2/3 innings to qualify, his 1.89 ERA is again best in the Majors.

It started well in the first inning when Cueto struck out the side, with all three finishing pitches being sliders with heavy break.

"He had some serious deception going on," Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond said. "I faced him three times at the wind up and one time in the stretch. He was hiding the ball pretty well. He was throwing his fastball with good life and sink at 96, 97."

The only real danger Cueto encountered came in the fourth when there were runners on second and third and one out.

To end the threat, Cueto shattered Jayson Werth's bat on a 97 mph fastball for a lineout to shortstop. Danny Espinosa popped out to second base to end the inning, as Cueto began a streak where he retired 15 of 17 batters before the ninth.

"It was a big inning," Cueto said of the fourth. "I didn't want to allow nothing to score. I just wanted outs."

In lockstep with a season theme, missed opportunities befuddled the Reds lineup. They had six hits through the first three innings but only one run on Joey Votto's two-out solo home run to left field off Nationals starter Ross Detwiler.

In the third inning, the bases were loaded with one out, but the rally fizzled when Jay Bruce struck out on three pitches and Miguel Cairo popped out to shallow right field.

And in the eighth, the Reds had runners on first and third with no outs and would load the bases twice. Just one more run crossed on Ramon Hernandez's RBI groundout.

"I was just hoping during the course of the game that all the runners we left out there didn't haunt us," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We squeaked that one out big time."

When Cueto batted for himself with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth and grounded out to end the inning, it was clear it was his game in the ninth. He had thrown 88 pitches through seven innings and 103 after eight. Closer Francisco Cordero didn't start warming up until the top of the ninth.

"His pitch count was such that he was throwing just as good at the end as he was in the beginning," Baker said of Cueto.

Cueto missed out on a complete game when his first pitch of the ninth inning was launched for a home run to left-center field by Ryan Zimmerman. It was supposed to be low and away but was up and over the middle of the plate. Baker quickly summoned Cordero from the bullpen.

"We were hoping he could possibly shut them out and go the distance," Baker said. "That home run by Zimmerman kind of negated that."

Cordero took over and gave up a one-out walk to Werth, followed by a lined single to right field by Espinosa. During a hit-and-run on a full count, Jonny Gomes loaded the bases when he reached on a grounder that went in and out of shortstop Paul Janish's glove for an error.

The Reds escaped when Wilson Ramos grounded the first pitch of his at-bat towards Phillips, who slickly flipped to Janish at second base. Janish completed the double play with a hard throw to first base as Gomes' slide took him out.

"It was not pretty, I admit that," said Cordero, whose 24th save gave him 314 for his career and tied him with Robb Nenn for 16th all time. "At the same time, we got the 'W'. It doesn't matter. Johnny pitched an unbelievable game. I didn't want to give up that run or lose that game, because Johnny has been so good."

Not just so good on Wednesday, but so good all season. Had Cueto not missed about six starts at the beginning of the season with a right biceps and triceps injury, he'd likely get some National League Cy Young Award consideration.

However, Cueto has a 9-5 record, while top contender Roy Halladay has 15 wins and 184 2/3 innings. Cueto has only 128 1/3 innings.

"He's definitely one of the elite pitchers," Baker said. "At this point in time of the season, he's not as worn or tired as a lot of the other pitchers when he missed that one month. That was one of the things we were counting on down the stretch."

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