Not a soul in Pittsburgh could have predicted Edinson Volquez would be the pitcher to go toe-to-toe with Johnny Cueto in an April meeting at PNC Park.
The zeros lined up one after the other on the scoreboard in left field Tuesday night until the Reds broke open the pitchers’ duel in the seventh inning.
The Reds peppered four hits off Volquez in the seventh to take a two-run lead and went on to collect a 4-1 win behind a masterful complete-game win by Cueto.
Cueto, infamously chided with chants of “Cue-to, Cue-to” in his wild-card playoff loss against the Pirates in October, has put that night far behind him.
He held the Pirates to three hits after notching a career-high 12 strikeouts against them in a complete-game, 4-0 shutout Thursday in Cincinnati.
“It was his ability to locate on both sides of the plate and to mix his pitches. He didn’t really have any patterns and wasn’t very predictable out there,” said Pirates catcher Russell Martin.
“He just didn’t make many mistakes over the heart of the plate. He was making quality pitches and getting ahead.”
Cueto retired Neil Walker to start the ninth before Andrew McCutchen broke his career-high scoreless inning streak at 21 with a first-pitch home run to right. He threw 117 total pitches, and 73 for strikes.
“When you make pitches and have that kind of control, it’s a challenge. We’ve got to try something different next time,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
“To right-handed hitters [he would] use that two-seamer, then he would throw the cutter in, and it would come back over the plate. Left-handers he was able to do the same thing, the cutter in and the hip-shot back. … He’s not really a guy when he’s throwing strikes you can wait out. He’s just been really, really tough. Not just on us, but we’ve seen him back to back in a very good place for him.”
Cueto and Volquez are good friends and go back several years together to when Cueto was pitching fourth in Cincinnati’s starting rotation and Volquez fifth.
“It was great. Always fun to pitch against former teammates and a guy like Johnny,” said Volquez. “You just want to compete, stay in the game and put up some zeroes. I’ve got to give him some credit; he’s one of the best pitchers in the National League.”
The Reds opened the decisive seventh with singles by Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier. Brayan Pena hit a changeup to right driving in Bruce to make it 1-0.
Pena tried to stretch his single into a double and was initially called safe at second, but the Pirates challenged the call, and it was overturned in 1 minute, 55 seconds. One batter later, Zack Cozart doubled in Frazier to make it 2-0.
“I just made a couple of mistakes in the seventh,” said Volquez.
Otherwise, Volquez pitched well. Through six innings, he yielded one hit, a walk and hit a batter.
When his work night ended, he had thrown 100 pitches, 71 for strikes. He allowed five hits, two earned runs and one walk. He struck out three.
“Another really solid effort from Volquez,” Hurdle said. “By the time he comes out, he’d like the 0-2 pitch back [against] Frazier and maybe the one to Cozart. But, my goodness, he’s making pitches, changing speeds, again getting ahead early. Only three, three-ball counts. He’s definitely given us a chance to win games and keep us in games.”
Volquez hit Frazier with a pitch that got away in the second and surrendered a two-out single to Billy Hamilton in the third. After Hamilton stole second, Volquez retired nine batters in a row before Joey Votto’s two-out walk in the sixth.
Cueto, meanwhile gave up a single to McCutchen in the first and another to Travis Snider in the second. He mowed down the Pirates in order in the third, fourth, fifth and seventh.
The Reds tacked on another run in the eighth with three hits off reliever Tony Watson. In the ninth, Pena singled, stole second, took third on an infield out and scored on Cueto’s single to right against reliever Stolmy Pimentel.
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez. First Published April 22, 2014 10:05 PM