WASHINGTON -- Johnny Cueto proved almost unhittable in his first nine starts this season, posting a miniscule 1.25 ERA while holding opponents to just a .135 average. The Reds often helped him with the best defense in the Major Leagues.
But the two things that had been nearly perfect in the first six weeks fell apart on Tuesday night. The Reds made three costly errors and finished with four miscues overall, and Cueto gave up eight runs (six earned) in just 5 1/3 innings as the Nationals rolled to a 9-4 victory over the Reds at Nationals Park.
Cueto (4-3) had won four straight decisions entering the night, one in which the defensive problems occasionally forced him to do extra work and put him in tougher situations. The Reds made two errors that led to two unearned runs in the third, and another error in the sixth started the ball rolling to a seven-run frame that gave Washington a 9-1 lead. Through the first two games of the series, Cincinnati has committed six errors.
"We didn't play a great defensive game; he hit two batters and he wasn't just the ground-ball machine/strikeout machine that he's been to this point," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It's just the law of averages caught up with us today, no doubt about it."
Cueto gave up the eight runs on just six hits -- the first time he's allowed eight runs in a game since 2010. He had allowed just 10 runs total in his first nine starts, but the Nationals changed that. Despite the pair of unearned runs, Cueto's ERA still jumped from 1.25 to 1.86.
Price and catcher Brayan Pena both said that Cueto's pitches were up a little bit more than normal. That, combined with the defensive problems and the seven-run sixth inning, proved to be too much.
"I think today we didn't play our best baseball behind him, everybody all around," Pena said. "He's going to keep you in the game. He's going to make sure that he gave us an opportunity to come back or do what we do. But that one was a very tough inning for all of us."
The seven-run inning changed everything, but two Reds miscues helped the Nationals to two runs in the third for a 2-1 lead. Todd Frazier's RBI single off Doug Fister (1-1) had given the Reds (20-24) a quick 1-0 lead in the first, but the third inning began to turn things.
Fister reached with one out when Frazier couldn't handle his hard grounder at first for an error. Denard Span (5-for-5) then bunted down the third-base line, where Ramon Santiago fielded the ball but made a wild throw that ricocheted up the right-field line. That second error let Fister score all the way from first and Span to go to third.
Anthony Rendon then drove in Span with a sacrifice fly to center for a 2-1 lead the Nats (24-21) wouldn't relinquish.
Rendon hurt the Reds again in the sixth. Cincinnati had runners on second and third with two outs when the third baseman made a diving stop of a Chris Heisey shot. Rendon quickly got up and made a high throw to first that Tyler Moore caught while just barely keeping his foot on the bag. Washington then broke it open in the bottom of the inning.
Cueto entered the decisive sixth on a roll, having retired seven in a row while striking out five batters. Span singled to start the inning, stole second and went to third on catcher Pena's throwing error. Cueto then hit Rendon before giving up an RBI single to Jayson Werth that gave the Nationals a 3-1 lead.
Cueto then fanned Ian Desmond, but Moore followed with an RBI single. Kevin Frandsen then was hit by another Cueto pitch to load the bases before Danny Espinosa ended the right-hander's night with a two-run single for a 6-1 lead. Sean Marshall came on and gave up two more hits that scored three more runs.
"He lost command a little bit," Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Cueto. "He can reach back for 96 [mph] when he has to. We took advantage of a couple of mistakes early on and got to him in the last inning."
The Reds couldn't do much against Fister, who gave up just two runs on six hits in seven innings for his first win as a National. Cincinnati scored the game's final three runs, two of which were driven in by Billy Hamilton (sacrifice fly, single), but it wasn't enough.
Cueto said afterward he wasn't going to make excuses. The Nationals just got to him, and he was already looking forward.
"They played really well," Cueto said through an interpreter. "You know what? I'm human. This is not over yet. I've just got to keep my head up and keep working. That's all I've got to do."
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.