CINCINNATI -- The Reds will try to avoid a post-All-Star break run of futility they haven't endured in 23 years when they take on the Nationals at Great American Ball Park on Saturday afternoon: losing eight straight to start the second half.
The last time Cincinnati lost eight in a row immediately following the Midsummer Classic was in 1991, and the last thing the 2014 club wants is to end up like the '91 squad. That team was 44-36 in the first half, and after losing the first eight after the break, went on to finish 74-88, in fifth place and 20 games out of first.
"It's a stretch in the season. We're going to get back," Reds manager Bryan Price said before Friday's 4-1 series-opening loss. "We're going to have other stretches where we play better than we have here. What we need is to play well enough to get ourselves to the top of the division and into the playoffs, and hopefully be one of the hotter teams going into the playoffs so we can do more than we've done in the past few opportunities."
Cincinnati will ask its ace to be the stopper of the season-long skid.
Johnny Cueto set the bar so high for himself in the first three months of the season that his 3.70 ERA in four July starts jumps off the stat sheet when compared with his 1.88 ERA through the end of June. Cueto lasted less than six innings for only the third time in 21 starts in his last outing, a no-decision against the Yankees last Sunday. The right-hander allowed two runs on five hits while walking a season-high-tying four and striking out seven over five frames, tallying 112 pitches.
The Nationals, going in the opposite direction of the Reds, look to keep the train rolling after having won 15 of their last 21, including Friday's victory. They'll give the ball to left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who's hit a rough patch of his own following an outstanding stretch of starts between June 23 and July 5.
In three outings spanning 23 innings, the southpaw didn't yield a run and allowed only nine hits. But since then, he's gone 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA (six earned runs in 10 innings pitched) in two starts.
In his last outing, on Sunday against the Brewers, Gonzalez went 3 1/3 innings and gave up three runs on four hits, throwing 88 pitches in the process.
"It's one of those games where you have to brush under the rug," Gonzalez said. "Nine days off [for the All-Star break], it didn't help. Obviously, my command and fastball location wasn't where I wanted it to be."
Nationals: With Zimmerman out, Walters gets chance at second
With Ryan Zimmerman on the 15-day disabled list after straining his right hamstring while running to first on Tuesday against the Rockies, manager Matt Williams slotted rookie utility infielder Zach Walters into the starting lineup at second base on Friday. It was Walters' first Major League start at the position. Anthony Rendon is the everyday third baseman until Zimmerman gets back.
Walters played second base in 27 games at Triple-A Syracuse this season, compared with 14 at shortstop, 11 at third and seven in the outfield.
"With Zim's loss, we are looking for a little bit of offense," Williams said. "[Walters] has been swinging well. In a small ballpark [like Great American Ball Park], you never know with him. He could drive the ball out of here. He was going to get a start over there eventually."
Williams' hunch paid dividends quickly, as Walters drove in Washington's first run Friday with an RBI double in the fourth. He went 1-for-4 with a run scored and the RBI, striking out twice.
Reds: Hannahan getting closer to return, would help at first base
Jack Hannahan has been out all season recovering from offseason right shoulder surgery, having incurred some setbacks along the way. But the corner infielder is well into a rehab assignment split between Class A Dayton and Triple-A Louisville, and could return to the Reds soon.
That would provide a much-needed option at first base with Joey Votto still on the disabled list with a strained left quad.
"He's playing without pain when he hits. He's able to go out and defend at first base," Price said. "We'll see him here soon and kind of be able to have a better look at him when we see him ourselves."
Louisville will be home this weekend, meaning Hannahan could make the trip to Cincinnati so the Reds can evaluate his progress firsthand. In four games with Class A Dayton as the designated hitter, he was 4-for-12. In seven games with Louisville -- five as the DH and two at first base -- Hannahan has gone 5-for-24 (.208) with two doubles and five RBIs.
• Denard Span is 4-for-7 (.571) in his career against Cueto. He recorded his second consecutive four-hit game Friday.
• Nationals closer Rafael Soriano's next save will be the 200th of his career.
• The Reds' seven-game losing streak is their longest since losing eight in a row from July 28 to Aug. 4, 2009.
• Cincinnati is 2-9 without Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips since Phillips tore a ligament in his left thumb on July 9.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.