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05/27/10 1:38 AM ET

Bucs brace for Cueto, Reds in finale

Pittsburgh has got to be getting tired of seeing Jonny Cueto already.

The Reds right-hander will be making his third start of the year against the Pirates, and he is coming off a complete-game one-hitter vs. Pittsburgh on May 11 that was one of the most dominating performances by any pitcher this season.

Cueto has been one of Cincinnati's top pitchers this year, with a 4-1 record and 3.60 ERA. And he appears to be peaking now, with a 4-0 record and a 2.18 ERA in his last five starts, and 20 strikeouts to only three walks.

Cueto is also 7-2 with a 3.30 ERA against the Pirates.

He left his last start on Saturday after six innings with a blood blister on his right index finger, and the Reds will be keeping an eye on whether the injury bothers him on Thursday.

"We caught it before it got too serious," manager Dusty Baker said Monday. "I told him to call his mama up and see if she's got any Dominican remedies, I'm sure that she does."

The Pirates will take any break they can get against Cueto. The 4-0 loss to the Reds on Wednesday snapped a three-game streak with at least one home run, and the Pirates are 13-7 this season when hitting a home run.

They were knocking at the door for another dramatic win on Wednesday, with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth. But Reds reliever Daniel Ray Herrera came in and struck out Garrett Jones to end the threat, helping preserve a Cincinnati win and keeping the Reds atop the National League Central ... for now.

"It was a little scary," Baker said. "We left a bunch of guys on base -- five in the first two innings and 11 on the night. Somebody just bust it open."

Reds: Volquez targets return
Reds right-hander Edison Volquez threw 40 pitches over two innings in a simulated game in Arizona on Saturday, and he appears to be moving closer to recovering from Tommy John surgery he had last year. Volquez is targeting a return to the club in late July or August.

Pirates: Walker makes second start
Pirates infielder Neil Walker went 2-for-4, but made his first error of the season in his second start at third base on Wednesday. Walker was moved there on Tuesday to fill in for Andy La Roche and fielded two groundballs without issue. The error, which came on an errant throw to first in the fourth inning, shouldn't adjust Pittsburgh's plan to continue moving Walker around the infield.

"He's played third base a lot in the last few years," Pirates manager John Russell said. "Going back to that position is not a big adjustment for him. If he had been playing outfield, it might be an adjustment for him. But he's been getting plenty of work in the infield."

Worth noting
Pirates third baseman Andy La Roche missed his fifth consecutive game with a stiff back. ... Reds first baseman Joey Votto sat out Wednesday's game with a stiff neck. ... The Reds placed reliever Paul Janish on the bereavement list Wednesday so he could return to home for his grandmother's funeral.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.