MILWAUKEE -- The Reds will get their ace back in the midst of a tight National League playoff race.
Reds manager Dusty Baker announced Sunday that Johnny Cueto will return from the disabled list Monday to start the series opener against the Astros in Houston.
Cueto has been on the DL since June 29 with a strained right lat muscle, his third trip to the DL this season.
Baker confirmed Sunday what Cueto said earlier in the day.
"I guess he is pitching tomorrow," Baker said. "If he said it, Johnny don't lie."
Cueto has made nine starts this season between DL stints, and he threw two live BP sessions, the last eliciting great reviews from Baker.
Cueto went 19-9 in 2012 with a 2.78 ERA in 217 innings, and he holds a 4-2 record and 3.33 ERA in 48 2/3 innings this season.
"He appears relatively ready from what we've seen," Baker said. "We'll see what we can get out of him. It's worth a try, it's worth the effort because he's Johnny Cueto. The more we get out of him tomorrow, the more we get out of him the next time, and who knows where he's going to be ready come playoff time."
Early indications were that the Reds would use Cueto out of the bullpen rather than as a starter in his return, but a back injury has forced Tony Cingrani to miss a start, leaving Monday open for Cueto.
Baker said there would be a pitch count on his 27-year-old right-hander, but he did not specify how high it would be. Cueto threw 60 pitches in a live batting practice session on Wednesday.
"It's kind of like a Spring Training game to get him ready," Baker said. "That gives us a tremendous boost much like what [outfielder Ryan] Ludwick gave us. And there's a chance we could get [reliever Sean] Marshall back. We're just trying to get our troops back together, being lined up."
Reds set rotation for series against Astros
MILWAUKEE -- The Reds announced on Sunday how their starting pitching rotation will shape up for their upcoming Interleague series against the Astros.
Johnny Cueto will return from the disabled list for the opener, leaving Games 2 and 3 for Mike Leake and Greg Reynolds.
Cueto jumps into the rotation after his third stint on the DL this season, helping fill a void left by Tony Cingrani, who replaced Cueto in the rotation, but left his last start with back issues.
Reynolds will make his fourth start of the year. In his first three starts, the 28-year-old right-hander went 1-2 with a 4.74 ERA against the Giants, Brewers and Rockies. Reynolds relieved Cingrani on Sept. 10 when he left with back spasms and threw 1 2/3 innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits to the Cubs.
"You can prepare a lot better when you know you're getting the ball," Reynolds said. "I'm obviously more comfortable with that. I'm excited for another opportunity, and I just want to do well. I'm just kind of embracing this whole thing."
Baker has said that he would like to use the Reds' remaining off days to line up certain pitchers for more important games. If the Reds stick with this order through the weekend, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo would take the mound in Pittsburgh this weekend.
"We plan for the future, but it's always subject to change," Baker said. "The way this game is, the way life is, you learn from yesterday, but you live for today and you try to plan the best you can for tomorrow. And things can change. That's how it is. We'll see where we are."
Baker said Cingrani might join the team for its three-game series against the Pirates that wraps up the current nine-game road trip.
"It's going to be tough to just come in and pitch when he hasn't pitched," Baker said. "I haven't had back problems, but the people I know who've had back problems, you can't do a thing. You can't get up out of bed, you can't move quickly, you can't bend down, you can't turn around, you can't dance, you can't do nothing. That back is tough, man."
Baker to give starters a shorter leash going forward
MILWAUKEE -- Reds manager Dusty Baker did something on Saturday that he would not have done early in the season.
With the Reds leading the Brewers 7-3 and two outs in the eighth inning, Baker brought in his closer Aroldis Chapman to face Brewers pinch-hitter Jonathan Lucroy with the bases loaded.
Chapman struck out Lucroy and worked around two ninth-inning walks to record a four-out save, his 36th of the season.
Did Baker like bringing in Chapman in the eighth inning? "Well, not really," Baker said. "We'd prefer not to stretch him out. Not because we wanted to, but because it was a necessity. It's down the stretch here and he hadn't been pitching. Plus, he hadn't tried a two-inning save like [Yankees closer] Mariano Rivera. All these games are important."
Chapman recorded more than three outs just once this season prior to Saturday, a two-inning save against the D-backs on Aug. 21.
Baker said he will have a shorter leash on his starters for the final two weeks of the Reds' playoff push.
"It's a little bit easier to do that now that you have every Thursday off-day," Baker said. "Before, you could go through your whole bullpen trying to win that game and lose ensuing games because you don't have a bullpen. You try to keep everything as much the same as you can, but circumstances make things change."
• Wladimir Balentien, who played with the Reds in 2009, hit his 56th and 57th home runs of the season for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on Sunday to set a new single-season record in Japan. The previous record was 55, and there are still 17 games left this year.
"I'm glad for him because he always had the potential," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We always liked his ability, so who knows, maybe he'll play his way back over here the way Cecil Fielder did, the way Davey Johnson did when I was playing."
Kevin Massoth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.