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HOU@CIN: Bruce leads Reds to win over Astros

CINCINNATI -- Except for the wet and blustery weather, Saturday was the type of game the Reds would love to reassemble and reproduce another 80-85 times over the rest of the season.

A 6-0 win over the Astros was an occasion where all three elements of the game were synched in perfect harmony. Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto provided seven scoreless innings. Jay Bruce had a home run with four RBIs, and there was strong defense that at times, was spectacular.

"That's what good teams do," said Bruce, who homered in a third straight game for the fourth time in his career. "They play all nuances of the game well, and they execute. Johnny pitched great. The defense was awesome, and we hit when we needed to. That's perfect."

While throwing 120 pitches, Cueto gave up five hits, one walk, hit a batter and had three strikeouts.

It got a little tense early for Cueto, who pitched himself into a two-out bases loaded jam in the first inning with a walk and a hit batsman. Matt Downs flied to right field to end the threat though.

"I know it's the first inning, and there's a long way to go," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "But when you get those opportunities, especially against a guy like Cueto, you'd like to come through".

Cueto began the second inning by allowing a Chris Johnson double, and had back-to-back hits allowed to start the fourth.

"He was throwing a lot of near-strikes early," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "The first two innings, we were getting a little concerned. He was at almost 50 pitches the first two innings. We were like 'Oh no, hopefully he can go six if he has a couple of short innings.'"

Once Cueto smoothed things out, Houston did not present much trouble. He retired 10 of his final 11 batters, including the last seven.

"In the beginning, I didn't feel that well," Cueto said. "Thank God I controlled myself and was able to stay in the game, and threw seven shutout innings."

Through five starts, Cueto is 3-0 with a 1.39 ERA, and has picked up where he left off from his excellent 2011 season.

"I feel confident with every pitch I throw, and I'm able to throw every pitch how I want. It makes me feel good," said Cueto, who has tossed four consecutive quality starts.

Good defense certainly played a part to back Cueto. After Jordan Schafer reached on a one-out infield single in the fifth, he was thrown out on a double play by Bruce. As Schafer drifted too far off of first base while Jose Altuve flied out to right field, Bruce caught the ball and quickly fired a throw to Joey Votto to nail the runner and end the inning.

Shortstop Zack Cozart easily had the play of the day when he fully extended with a dive to his right that stopped a hard grounder from J.D. Martinez in the sixth. Equally superb was Cozart's throw to first base to get Martinez out.

"I was so shocked that I caught it," Cozart said. "I kind of caught it behind me. It worked out well, to where it flipped me around to where I could get a throw off."

In the seventh on a Chris Snyder two-out grounder, Scott Rolen made a nice stop to his left and threw him out from his knees with a one-hop throw to first base. Cozart was back in the eighth to make a long run and catch in the first row of seats on Brian Bixler.

"We were kidding Cozart that he was going to Tivo and watch himself on "Web Gems" about 52 times tonight," Baker said.

Two-out hitting in the first inning helped stake Cincinnati to a 2-0 lead against Astros starter Lucas Harrell. Votto started the rally with his two-out double down the left-field line and scored when Brandon Phillips' drive to center field was first misjudged by Jordan Schafer, and then skipped off of his glove as he dove. Phillips legged out a triple on the play.

There was one out and two on in the third inning when Bruce lifted a double that fell just inside the line at the left-field corner and scored two runs for a 4-0 lead.

Phillips' one-out single in the fifth would set up Bruce, who sent a Harrell first pitch into the right-field seats for his sixth home run.

That gave Bruce three homers over his last 10 at-bats, after he had failed to leave the park over a stretch of 58 immediately preceding them. Over his last nine games, following a 0-for-19 skid, he's batting .429 (15-for-35).

"He's feeling better," Baker said. "Guys are feeling better. We played good baseball in all facets of the game. Everybody feels real good when Johnny Cueto is on the mound, because you've got a great chance to win that day."

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