CINCINNATI -- Johnny Cueto can't say why he has been so good against the Pirates in his career. But he is excited for the chance to continue the trend.
The Reds named Cueto their starting pitcher for a one-game wild-card game Tuesday vs. the Pirates, against whom he is 13-4 with a 2.37 ERA. At PNC Park, he is even more dominant, going 8-2 with a 1.80 ERA.
"I don't know how to explain that," Cueto said Sunday as interpreted by Reds athletic trainer Tomas Vera. "I just do my job. When I go there, I do my job. I was talking earlier that they have a great team. They have really good players."
Cueto has battled injuries this season, which included three trips to the disabled list with right back issues. He left early from one of his two starts against the Pirates this season with a back injury and has made just two starts since June.
Neither Cueto nor Reds manager Dusty Baker could say if they anticipated the pitcher's return this season -- especially in a game that's as consequential as the one Tuesday.
"You just don't know how the body is going to heal," Baker said. "You don't know, and that person doesn't know."
Cueto pitched well in two starts since returning from his most recent trip to the disabled list. He pitched five scoreless innings in his return against the Houston Astros and allowed one earned run on three hits in seven innings last week against the New York Mets.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle deferred when asked if Cueto is pitching as well as he had when fully healthy.
"He's a good pitcher," Hurdle said.
He should know. Since Hurdle joined the Pirates in 2011, Cueto has beaten the Pirates four times.
"I've watched him develop," Hurdle said. "He controls the running game. There's an athlete in there."
But this is not the same Pirates team Cueto has faced in the past. The additions of Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd have decreased the dry spots in the Pirates lineup. And the young batters who struggled against Cueto have developed as hitters.
Byrd's addition could prove especially impactful as the outfielder is 7 for 12 in his career against Cueto with one home run, one double and three RBIs.
"It's going to be a little different lineup than he's seen from us in a long time," said second baseman Neil Walker, who is 6 for 28 lifetime against Cueto. "We're going to do everything we can to get on him early and stay on him."
Cueto will be in search of some redemption Tuesday after his most recent postseason experience left him a little sour.
He started for the Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series in 2012, but he left the game in the first inning after sustaining a back injury.
"I was so excited, I was so emotional for the game, that I think I overdid too much," Cueto said. "I was trying to do too much of what I had to do. I don't know what happened that day."
On Tuesday, the pitcher Baker called "one of the best competitors I've ever had" will get another opportunity to pitch a crucial game for his team.
"This is a really meaningful game for me," Cueto said. "This is the most important game of the season, and I just have to keep doing my job."pirates
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino.