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04/10/09 9:40 PM ET

Cordero lights-out in first week of '09

Cincinnati (1-2) vs. Pittsburgh (2-2), Saturday, 1:10 p.m. ET

Reds fans seemed to have palpitations each time they read reports about closer Francisco Cordero's Spring Training performances.

Cordero, who was recovering from September right ankle surgery, was rocked by nearly every hitter he encountered -- whether it was a Major Leaguer, a Minor Leaguer or an unknown from The Netherlands' World Baseball Classic team.

Guess what? Now the games count and those outings became the latest reminder of the unimportance of spring numbers. Cordero has dealt two scoreless innings in two regular-season games against the Mets. But he was downright dominant in the ninth inning of the Reds' 8-6 win on Thursday.

Cordero struck out the side. Of his 13 pitches, nine were strikes. No one came close to hitting him.

"That's the Cordero that we know," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He's throwing downhill and throwing 95-96 mph and he was painting [the strike zone]. That was some performance."

Cordero, who had 34 saves last season while favoring the ankle with loose bone chips, posted a 12.10 ERA over 9 2/3 spring innings this year. As of March 20, it was 18.00. Most troubling was that his velocity was down and his pitches were up in the strike zone.

There was no sign of that trouble as Cordero mowed down the Mets in order for his first save of 2009.

"That's the best I've seen him throw and that's the best his ankle felt," Baker said. "He was operating all of last year on a bad ankle. In Spring Training, everybody was worried about him because he wasn't throwing well or hard. He's getting stronger and better."

Through two games, Cordero has allowed one walk and one hit with four strikeouts.

Pitching matchup
CIN: RHP Johnny Cueto (9-14, 4.81 ERA in 2008)
Cueto is back after his promising but inconsistent 2008 rookie season. The 23-year-old righty showed signs he will improve in 2009 by posting a 1.57 ERA in five Cactus League games, with six walks and 13 strikeouts over 23 innings. In three starts against the Pirates last season, Cueto was 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA, giving up 18 hits in 16 innings. Pitch conservation will be a big goal this season for Cueto, who was often unable to go deep in games as a rookie.

PIT: LHP Paul Maholm (0-0, 1.35 ERA)
Maholm stays on regular turn through the rotation following Friday's rainout and the Pirates' decision to skip Jeff Karstens. Maholm's command wasn't pinpoint sharp as usual in his first start of the season, but he managed through it just fine. Maholm finished 6 2/3 efficient innings and allowed only one earned run, one intentional walk and seven hits. The cold weather affected Maholm's breaking ball early, and he had trouble relying on his breaking pitches until well into the outing. If the lefty can find that pitch in his next outing and continues to work the inside part of the plate, he should be back to inducing ground balls with ease. Maholm is 3-3 with a 4.08 ERA in 13 career starts against the Reds.

Rhodes and Weathers stingy:
Through three relief appearances, lefty Arthur Rhodes has thrown three perfect innings with three strikeouts. In his two outings over 1 2/3 innings, David Weathers has also been perfect. Weathers faced two batters and threw just three pitches in the eighth inning Thursday.

 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FS-O

On radio
• WLW 700

Up next
• Sunday: Reds (Aaron Harang, 0-1, 1.80 ERA) vs. Pirates (Ian Snell, 0-1, 13.50 ERA), 1:10 p.m. ET
• Monday: Reds (Edinson Volquez, 0-1, 8.31 ERA) at Brewers (Yovani Gallardo, 1-0, 2.70 ERA), 8:05 p.m. ET
• Tuesday: Reds (TBA) at Brewers (Manny Parra, 0-1, 10.38 ERA in 2009), 8:05 p.m. ET

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.