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WSH@CIN: Cueto fans nine over seven shutout innings

Reds ace Johnny Cueto has been one of the National League's best starters, but in his career, he's struggled against the red-hot Marlins, whom he'll face in Thursday night's series opener at Marlins Park.

Despite being 2-1, Cueto has posted a 5.27 ERA against Miami in five starts. In his lone start at Marlins Park on Sept. 15, 2012, he gave up six runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings, taking the loss.

Cueto, who was elected by the players to his first All-Star team, has posted numbers that indicate he is poised to buck that trend. The right-hander leads the NL in innings (155 2/3) and opponents' batting average (.184) while ranking second in strikeouts (157) and third in ERA (2.08).

He was stellar in his last start, tossing seven strong innings in Cincinnati's 1-0 victory over the Nationals on Saturday. He allowed four hits, walked three and struck out nine.

"Early in the game, the humidity was beating him up, but boy, when we took that lead, it was like a whole different guy out there," Reds manager Bryan Price said of Cueto.

"I started to breathe more deeply, and I was just slowing down a little more, and I was painting the ball where I wanted," Cueto said. "I was throwing the pitches where I wanted, and it gave me the aggressiveness that I wanted."

But the streaking Marlins, who are 9-2 over their last 11, will be a tough assignment for Cueto.

Tom Koehler, who will oppose Cueto, has pitched a lot better in July than his numbers indicate. Over his last three starts since a three-inning, seven-run outing July 7, he's scattered seven earned runs over 18 innings and the Marlins have gone 3-2 behind him.

If it weren't for that seven-run performance in Arizona, he'd have a 2.63 July ERA.

In his last outing Saturday in Houston, he struggled a bit, and got touched up for three runs on nine hits in five innings. He'll need to limit early damage done against him if he's going to give the Marlins a chance to continue their strong stretch.

"The way we're playing, who knows what's going to happen," Koehler said. "So it's good just keeping it close within striking distance and I feel pretty good about how I've been playing right now."

Marlins: Atmosphere hasn't changed despite streak

Since July 20, Miami's pitchers have a Majors-best 2.50 ERA (25 earned runs in 90 innings) and have held opponents to a .214 average in that span entering Wednesday.

But its hitting has improved, too. In June, the team was the fifth-worst in baseball with a .234 batting average. July has seen the Marlins climb up the ranks with a .259 average (sixth in the NL). In their last 10 games, the Marlins have outscored their opponents, 39-27.

They've also managed to figure out the road woes that plagued them earlier. And they've been playing better at home, hitting .262/.318/.384 with 31 runs in eight July games.

Despite the club being on its best streak of the season, Koehler said the atmosphere in the clubhouse hasn't changed much.

"Truthfully, the clubhouse isn't much different," he said. "It's a lot of high-character guys and we all know what we're playing for. We've been playing hard all year and it just so happens now that we're on the good side of those games instead of losing. We were losing those games by one or two runs, battling back every night. Now we're winning them. You feel a little bit better because you got the 'W,' but these guys have stuck together all year and I anticipate that's how it'll be from here on out."

Reds: Price expects club to be buyers at Deadline

When the Reds started their nosedive coming out of the All-Star break, speculation increased over whether the club could pivot from being buyers to sellers before Thursday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline.

When asked which way the team was leaning Wednesday morning, Reds manager Bryan Price was pretty emphatic the team and general manager Walt Jocketty still fell in the buyer category.

"I think we're looking to get better. I don't think there is any question about that," Price said. "I don't see us as a team that's looking to 2015. The way we've played and the way we've battled through the year and stayed competitive and stayed in this thing, knowing there's a chance we're going to get Brandon [Phillips] and Joey [Votto] back, that we've got a bunch of guys here that fight and are gamers, I don't think there's any reason to lose optimism that we can stay in this thing and start to get ourselves closer to the top -- where we were right before the break."

Worth noting

• The Marlins have dropped their last five games to the Reds dating back to 2012. The Reds have won seven of the last eight meetings and are 3-0 at Marlins Park with the roof open and 1-2 with the roof closed.

• Cueto has allowed 10 of his 34 earned runs in two starts, a 9-4 loss on May 20 at Washington (5 1/3 innings, six earned runs) and an 8-0 loss on June 6 vs. Philadelphia (five innings, four earned runs). His ERA in his other 20 starts is 1.61 (145 1/3 innings, 26 earned runs allowed).

• In his 22 appearances, Cueto has produced a staff-high 19 quality starts.

• Wednesday marked the fourth time this season that Jay Bruce, who's on the bereavement list, and the injured Votto and Phillips were all out of Cincinnati's lineup.

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