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04/05/12 8:21 PM ET

Cueto, Reds blank Marlins on three hits

Righty in complete control; Bruce homers in front of record crowd

CINCINNATI -- Johnny Cueto earned ace status in the Reds' rotation with his efforts in 2011, and promptly backed up why he is the No. 1 starter and an Opening Day pitcher.

With three hits allowed over seven scoreless innings by Cueto, the Reds were winners on their Opening Day after beating the Marlins, 4-0, on Thursday before 42,956 -- the largest crowd for a regular-season game at Great American Ball Park.

The last time the Reds shut out their opponent on Opening Day was April 9, 1980, vs. the Braves.

"What a way to start for him and for us," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "That was an outstanding performance by Johnny Cueto. He was calm. He was relaxed. He was throwing strikes."

Cueto, who walked two and struck out four, did not give up his first hit until Emilio Bonifacio's infield single to the shortstop leading off the fourth inning. Bonifacio was promptly erased by a Cueto pickoff throw to first base.

No Marlins runner reached third base against Cueto, or relievers Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall during perfect eighth and ninth innings.

"I've pitched against No. 1 guys on a few occasions before," Cueto said through interpreter Tomas Vera. "Now I feel like I am in that group, too."

It's a role the 26-year-old Cueto matured into as he begins his fifth Major League season. Once someone who relied on high velocity and the strikeout, while also getting high pitch counts, the right-hander has become more efficient.

Against Miami, Cueto used only 95 pitches and felt he had more in the tank.

"Johnny is pitching now," said Reds right fielder Jay Bruce, who had two RBIs, including a solo home run in the seventh inning. "He knows what he really wants to do. He is really taking control of the game and trying to focus on outs instead of strikeouts. That's going to help him a ton, especially being our No. 1."

Pitching seemed to rule overall during a brisk late afternoon, but there were some chances to make things happen.

In the bottom of the first inning, the Reds had Mark Buehrle against the ropes during his Marlins debut. Buehrle hit Scott Rolen in the shoulder with an offspeed pitch to load the bases for Bruce. On a full-count pitch, Bruce just missed a grand slam when his drive to right field curved foul by a few feet.

Bruce managed to send another drive to the warning track in center field, but settled for a sacrifice fly that scored Zack Cozart for a 1-0 Reds lead.

It remained that way until the sixth. Rolen led off with a double to left field and scored when Ryan Ludwick lined a double through the gap in left-center field for his first RBI as a Red and a 2-0 advantage. It was the first hit with runners in scoring position in nine tries against Buehrle, who completed six innings with seven hits, two walks and five strikeouts.

In the bottom of the eighth, Bruce provided the insurance with a booming home run off of the batter's eye in center field against Edward Mujica. The estimated distance was 442 feet.

"When you win on Opening Day, you get to continue that feeling you had all day," Bruce said. "You get to carry it through. It's a great day here. It's a holiday in Cincinnati. It's a pretty special day."

Cueto, who was making the first Opening Day start of his career, had some jams to wiggle out of in the sixth and seventh innings. In the sixth, he gave up a Jose Reyes one-out single and walked Bonifacio. The count ran full against Hanley Ramirez, who struck out swinging before Reyes was thrown out in a rundown between second and third base for an inning-ending double play.

With Sanchez on second base with a double, there were two outs when Omar Infante was up with a 3-1 count. Cueto got Infante to foul off three straight pitches before the Marlins second baseman flied to center field on Cueto's 95th and final pitch.

"He's an ace. We know it, everybody knows it," Sanchez said.

At this time last season, Cueto was on the disabled list with a strained biceps, and he missed the first month of the season. He still had a 2.31 ERA in 24 starts. This season, he seems poised for breaking out.

"The young man has matured big time before our eyes," Baker said. "He doesn't fight Johnny Cueto anymore. Before, his own worst enemy was probably himself. I feel he's gotten past the point and matured to the pitcher he is. Sky's the limit as long as he stays healthy."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.