Cincinnati (41-32) at San Francisco (42-33), 10:15 p.m. EDT
The Cincinnati Reds’ Johnny Cueto and San Francisco Giants’ Madison Bumgarner both have a chance to go unbeaten in the month of June.
While Cueto has experienced great success against the Giants, the same can’t be said for Bumgarner versus the Reds.
With Cueto looking to win a career-best fifth straight start and Bumgarner seeking a fifth consecutive winning decision, the Reds and surging Giants open a four-game set Thursday night at AT&T Park.
Since compiling a 5.56 ERA while losing three of his final four starts in May, Cueto (9-3, 2.21 ERA) has been excellent in June. The right-hander has won all four of his outings this month, allowing five total runs and striking out 30 over 30 2-3 innings.
“We have incredible confidence in Johnny every time he touches the ball,” said Reds third baseman Scott Rolen, batting .337 with five homers and 24 RBIs in his last 23 games against the Giants including a pair of homers in April, when Cincinnati took two of three at home.
Cueto was at his best Saturday, striking out a season-high nine over seven innings of three-hit ball in a 6-0 victory over Minnesota.
“I think you saw the deception and the mix that (Cueto) has,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told the Reds’ official website. “The fastball jumps pretty good, he backdoors the breaking ball pretty well and he’s got a great changeup. He was tough. We never could get any big hits against him or put anything together.”
The Giants (43-33) can surely relate. Cueto limited them to four hits over seven innings of a 3-0 win at San Francisco on June 9, 2011, then threw a three-hitter for his second career shutout in a 9-0 victory July 31.
Bumgarner (9-4, 3.10), in contrast, hasn’t been nearly as sharp versus the NL Central-leading Reds (41-33). He’s 0-2 in three starts against them with an 8.56 ERA – his highest against any team he’s faced more than once.
Bumgarner improved to 4-0 this month despite not having his best stuff during Saturday’s 9-8 victory at Oakland, giving up four runs and a career high-tying 11 hits over six innings. The left-hander could benefit Thursday from returning home, where he’s 13-2 with a 1.98 ERA over 16 starts dating to June 2011.
He’ll be trying to lead the Giants to a sixth win in seven games and a fourth consecutive shutout for the first time in franchise history. San Francisco, which defeated NL West rival Los Angeles 3-0 on Wednesday, moved into a first-place tie with the Dodgers after outscoring them 13-0 during a three-game sweep.
“To be able to sweep the Dodgers, throw three shutouts and be in the position we’re in says a lot about us,” Wednesday’s starter Tim Lincecum said after posting his first win in nearly two months.
Cincinnati is coming off its sixth loss in nine games, falling 8-4 to Milwaukee on Wednesday. Ryan Ludwick belted a pair of solo home runs in the loss.
“We just have to go back to work,” said Reds manager Dusty Baker, who spent 10 seasons at the helm in San Francisco from 1993-2002, taking the Giants to a World Series appearance in his final year there.
The Reds received a scare Wednesday when Brandon Phillips was removed as a precaution after getting hit in the head by Aramis Ramirez’s forearm while attempting to cover second base. Phillips was tested for a concussion after the game and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to play Thursday.
“If I’m feeling like I’m feeling right now, then I’m not going to go out there and just try to play,” said Phillips, batting .359 with four homers and 15 RBIs in his last 16 games. “I’m going to try my best.”