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ARI@CIN: Cueto throws six shutout innings vs. D-backs

Before coming back from the All-Star break, the Brewers proclaimed their first nine games of the second half to be the most important of the season. Trailing the Pirates by eight games in the National League Central at the time, they hoped to start making a push toward the front.

When they take on the Reds -- now the division leaders -- on Sunday, the Brewers will be looking to not fall too much further behind.

After two straight losses in Cincinnati, Milwaukee enters Sunday a season-worst 9 1/2 games back in the NL Central.

Before the series began, recently named closer Francisco Rodriguez described it as "do or die." A win on Sunday would help salvage the weekend and leave the Brewers at 5-4 on their crucial nine-game stretch, but it won't come easy against the Reds, who have lost just twice since coming back from the break.

Cincinnati has won 10 of its last 12 games and is a season-high 14 games above .500. The Reds have maintained their success even after losing Joey Votto to left knee surgery that will keep him out of action for 3-4 weeks. Since Votto's last game, Cincinnati is 4-2, helping the club remain ahead of Pittsburgh at the top of the division.

In those six games without Votto, the Reds have surrendered 3.5 runs per contest while averaging four runs on offense. Manager Dusty Baker said his team isn't putting up huge numbers in Votto's absence, "but we're getting just enough to win."

"That's what you've got to do," he said. "That's what good teams do. You don't sob, pout, feel sorry for yourself. You pick it up. You're not the same without Joey, but the guys are picking up the slack."

Reds: Bruce breaks slump vs. team he dominates
• In his first six games after the All-Star break, Jay Bruce struggled, going 3-for-24 at the plate with seven strikeouts. Turns out, all he needed to break out of his funk was to face the Brewers, a team he has enjoyed a great deal of success against in the past.

Entering Sunday's finale, Bruce is 4-for-7 with a pair of RBIs in the series. That gives him 47 RBIs in his career against Milwaukee -- more than any other team he's faced. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said on Saturday that Milwaukee's pitchers just haven't been able to make pitches against Cincinnati's slugger.

"We know what type of hitter he is, and we know you cannot make mistakes against him," Roenicke said. "We know where the percentages are in the strike zone where they don't hit .350 or above, but, if you don't hit those spots, now you have to throw a pitch [the hitter] is looking for - a fastball - and if you don't locate that well, they kill the ball."

Bruce credited an off-day on Tuesday for breaking his slump, which had reached 19 at-bats without a hit before playing the Brewers.

"To have a kind of a mental rest day is always good," he said. "You might be doing something [wrong] just a little mechanical, then you get to the mental part of it, and it just kind of snowballs. You have to have something to really stop the bleeding."

• Despite a blister on his index finger, Sunday's starter Johnny Cueto pitched six scoreless innings in a 4-0 win against the D-backs in his last outing. He is 11-5 with a 2.28 ERA this season. He faced the Brewers on May 9, allowing five hits and no runs in seven innings on the way to a 2-1 win.

Brewers: Crew utilizes rotation at shortstop
• It never seems to be a certainty who Roenicke will send out to play shortstop each game.

The position has been a tossup since Alex Gonzalez tore his right ACL and was lost for the season in early May. Since then, Roenicke has trotted out four different players to shortstop, including Saturday's starter, recently called up rookie Jeff Bianchi. Cesar Izturis and Cody Ransom have been the other two primary starters at the position.

Roenicke said he'd like to have a permanent shortstop instead of rotating guys in and out every day.

"I think it's very hard to use three guys," Roenicke said. "Every night, I'm trying to figure out the matchups and who should be out there. That's difficult to do."

• Mike Fiers will start against the Reds for the first time on Sunday. Fiers is just 1-1 in his past four starts. However, he has given up a run in only one of those starts, surrendering two to the Marlins on July 5.

Worth noting
• The Reds enter Sunday with a 6-2 record against the Brewers this season, including a 4-1 mark in Cincinnati. Comments