CINCINNATI -- The Houston Astros loaded the bases in the first inning on Saturday. Reds starter Johnny Cueto had walked and hit a batter. But on Cueto's 24th pitch of the inning, Matt Downs lofted a fly ball to right for the final out. The Astros had a couple more scoring chances against Cueto, but couldn't cash in, and Jay Bruce and the Cincinnati offense made them pay for the missed opportunities.
Houston managed just five hits off of Cueto, and Bruce hit a two-run home run and drove in four runs, as Cincinnati won the second game of the weekend series, 6-0, before 32,971 fans on a chilly afternoon at Great American Ball Park.
The Astros loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth against hard-throwing Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman. Chris Synder worked the count to 3-0, but struck out swinging to end the game. But the first inning set the tone for the afternoon.
"I know it's the first inning and there's a long way to go, but when you get those opportunities, especially against a guy like Cueto, you'd like to come through," said Astros manager Brad Mills.
Houston was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Saturday, and left eight runners on base.
Astros center fielder Jordan Schafer reached on an infield single in the fifth. He now has reached base in all 21 games to begin the season, the longest such streak since Ricky Gutierrez reached in 23 games to begin the 1998 season. The club record is 25 and was set by Denis Menke in 1969.
Travis Buck, making his first start since straining his hamstring on April 18 in Washington, went 2-for-3 with two singles.
Astros starter Lucas Harrell allowed six runs, five earned, in six innings. He walked one and struck out one over 86 pitches. Harrell is a groundball pitcher who doesn't strike out many guys. On Saturday, he lived by contact, and died by it as well.
"Being a groundball guy, that's going to happen some times," Harrell said. "I made some really good pitches. One day you make good pitches and get hit, other days you don't."
Cueto allowed just five hits in seven innings, walked one and struck out three.
"It's tough to shut those guys out," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of Houston. "They're scoring a lot of runs. That's a tribute to Johnny [Cueto] and [catcher Ryan] Hanigan working together, calling and throwing a good game."
Joey Votto doubled and scored on Brandon Phillips' triple to put Cincinnati ahead 1-0 in the first. Scott Rolen's RBI single made it 2-0.
Harrell allowed two runs on three hits and a walk in a 23-pitch first inning.
He ran into trouble again in the third. After Zack Cozart singled and Votto reached on an error, Bruce doubled off of the left-field wall. Bruce's drive squarely struck the yellow line on the left field wall, driving home two runs to make the score 4-0.
"He had some pretty good stuff," Mills said of Harrell. "Sometimes that does happen. The only really hard hit ball was Bruce's home run. He made some pitches."
Houston missed another scoring change against Cueto when it began the fourth with a pair of bloop singles by Travis Buck and Downs. But Chris Johnson rolled into a 6-4-3 double play, and Synder grounded out.
And after Schafer singled in the fifth, he wasn't on base long. He was doubled off first base by Bruce after he caught Jose Altuve's fly ball.
With the missed opportunities adding up for the Astros, the Reds piled on Harrell. Bruce's two-run home run, a 417-foot blast to right-center, made the score 6-0. It was his third homer in as many games.
A defensive gem by Cozart epitomized a frustrating afternoon for Houston.
Cozart fielded a J.D. Martinez grounder deep in the hole at short, then threw from his knees to retire Martinez for the second out in the sixth. Martinez could only tip his cap to Cozart after the game.
"Unbelievable. What are you gonna do?," Martinez said. "I thought I had a hit. I saw him lay out and said 'No way'. If that doesn't get No. 1 on Sportscenter, I don't know what will".
The Astros again got solid relief work from left-hander Wesley Wright, who pitched a scoreless seventh inning with one strikeout. Left-handed hitters are now 0-for-12 against Wright this season. Brandon Lyon pitched a scoreless eighth, and had two strikeouts.
In the end, Houston may have been left to consider a different outcome on Saturday if it had come up with just one or two clutch hits.
"They found some holes," Mills said of the Reds. "We couldn't find a hole."
Jeff Wallner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.