CINCINNATI -- A commanding Johnny Cueto performance, plus an early lead, were ingredients to a recipe the Reds often crave but haven't gotten enough of this season.
But this was a night where starting pitcher, bullpen, defense and offense worked in synergy. Cueto tied a career high with 12 strikeouts over six scoreless innings as the Reds took a 5-0 victory over the Dodgers at Great American Ball Park on Wednesday night, after losing the previous two games of the series.
"Johnny was doing what he does best, that's pitching. That's why we call him around here 'Johnny Beisbol,'" Reds catcher Brayan Pena said. "He never backs down from any challenge. He knows this was very important for us. We didn't play those [first] two games against them the way we wanted to play. For him to step it up today, it was awesome."
While giving up only three singles, Cueto did not walk a batter. He retired his first nine in a row before Dee Gordon's leadoff single in the fourth inning. Gordon was subsequently picked off.
Although the night was relatively smooth for Cueto, there was still a lot of work, as he threw a lot of pitches -- 112 -- over the six innings. He is only the third Reds pitcher since 1914 to record 12 strikeouts in a six-inning start, and the first since Edinson Volquez on May 23, 2008. Cueto also struck out 12 on April 14 vs. the Pirates.
"They really, really, worked on me. I was trying to strike out everybody, I'm going to tell you that," Cueto said through translator Tomas Vera.
"It was a battle," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "They dragged out some at-bats and fouled off a lot of tough pitches and made him throw a lot of pitches. It was six innings that we had to have."
In Cueto's last meeting against Hyun-Jin Ryu, on May 26 at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers' lefty stifled the Reds and took a perfect game into the eighth inning. There was no such drama this time.
Ryu, who came in with only four earned runs allowed in 38 innings pitched on the road this season, gave up four earned runs on Wednesday alone in his six innings.
Cincinnati took a 3-0 lead in the third inning with a two-out rally that started with back-to-back walks to Billy Hamilton and Todd Frazier. On a 2-1 pitch, Joey Votto went opposite field to line a two-run double near the left-field line. Brandon Phillips sliced a RBI single to right field that scored Votto.
It gave Cueto a nice cushion to work with. After he picked off Gordon in the fourth, the ace struck out five in a row before back-to-back singles by Miguel Rojas and Drew Butera began the Dodgers' sixth. The jam was shut down when Cueto retired the next three batters with two more strikeouts.
Said Cueto: "When I got the three runs of support, I started saying to myself, 'I have to start tightening it up right now.' Usually these are the innings they're coming after me and score runs."
Ryu retired eight of nine batters until Jay Bruce scorched a first pitch into the right-field seats for a one-out homer in the sixth inning. It marked the first time since April 25 that Votto and Bruce had RBIs in the same game.
"We have players here that have accomplished things in this game at a very high level. Even though we're off to a slow first 60-plus games of the season, we still believe we can be a dynamic offensive club," Price said.
Meanwhile, Cueto (6-5) bolstered his credentials for a potential first-time All-Star Game nod. His 109 strikeouts and 102 innings lead the National League, as does his opponents' batting average of .160.
The Dodgers posed a threat to the bullpen in the seventh when Logan Ondrusek allowed a one-out single and a walk and Manny Parra surrendered a bloop hit to load the bases and bring the tying run to the plate. But the inning's third pitcher, Jonathan Broxton, took over and got pinch-hitter Hanley Ramirez to ground to shortstop, where Zack Cozart turned the inning-ending double play.
"That was huge for us, to get our defense off the field and get in there and try to score some more runs," said Broxton, part of a staff that notched 16 strikeouts overall in the game.
Cincinnati added a run in the seventh with a Hamilton RBI single off Paul Maholm. For a Reds team outscored, 12-3, in the previous two games, it was a satisfying outcome and their seventh shutout win this season. They can even the four-game series and finish with a 5-5 home stand with one more victory in the series finale on Thursday.