PITTSBURGH -- Johnny Cueto was not himself Tuesday night. The usually efficient and strikeout-happy Reds ace needed 119 pitches to get through six innings and struck out just two batters.
After the game against the Pirates, the right-hander said he "didn't feel good at all" and noted he hadn't even been sure if he'd be able to get through one inning.
Cueto leads the Majors in innings pitched with 108, and losing him for any period of time would be devastating for a team trying to climb into the National League Central race. But Reds manager Bryan Price said Cueto's lousy feeling Tuesday didn't have to do with his arm, but rather sluggishness after the Reds were idle on Monday.
"I think he felt a little bit of a lethargy before the game, which sometimes happens," Price said. "The off-days are a blessing and a curse. They're a blessing for a position player but a curse for a pitcher, because these guys are so routine-oriented that coming in and running around, getting your body loose and playing your catch is an important part of every day of the season. So sometimes when a starter doesn't have that routine the day before he pitches, it can have carryover."
Even without his best stuff, Cueto still managed to limit the Pirates to two runs, and his 1.92 ERA ranked No. 1 in the Majors on Wednesday.
Price maintaining confidence in scuffling bullpen
PITTSBURGH -- Even though the Reds have started their current six-game road trip with three wins in four games, their bullpen continues to endure its struggles.
In the lone loss of the trip, Cincinnati relievers gave up four runs to the Brewers in two innings on Saturday to spoil six shutout frames from starter Mat Latos and a 2-0 lead. The issue resurfaced Tuesday against the Pirates.
Todd Frazier's ninth-inning home run saved the Reds, but the bullpen made a three-run lead disappear in the seventh. Even in the ninth with Aroldis Chapman on the mound, the closer allowed a single and walked a batter before recording the final out of the game on a long fly ball that was nearly a walk-off homer.
Five of seven current available arms in the bullpen have ERAs above 3.50, and Reds relievers collectively have a 4.06 ERA, the second-worst mark in the National League and one that ranks 23rd in the Majors. During this road trip, that figure is 6.94.
Tony Cingrani was shifted from the starting rotation to the bullpen last week when Latos was activated off the disabled list. And even with the subpar production, manager Bryan Price said that would be the only move regarding the bullpen -- at least for now.
"Inevitably, we need to get more reliability out of our bullpen to feel comfortable moving into the second half of our season with what we have," Price said. "If you look at our team and our history from a personnel standpoint, I couldn't be happier with who's here. From a production standpoint, we need to pick it up."
One name Price was asked about was Jumbo Diaz. An appropriately-named, 315-pound reliever, Diaz has been great for Triple-A Louisville this season with a 1.38 ERA, 17 saves and 30 strikeouts in 29 appearances. But Price reiterated he still was content with the arms he currently has at his disposal, and said "any of those guys in the bullpen who aren't pitching as well as we think they're capable of could still turn it around.
"You're always a couple of nice outings away from having it in the back of your mind, rather than the front of your mind."
• Despite having eight hits in his last four games and a .419 June average, Ryan Ludwick was held out of the Reds' lineup Wednesday against Priates starter Edinson Volquez. Price said he liked Skip Schumaker -- who got the start in left field -- against Volquez, and that Ludwick would be back in the starting lineup on Thursday.
• Billy Hamilton is quickly -- literally -- closing in on second place on the Reds' rookie steals list. Hamilton swiped three bags Tuesday to boost his season total to 28, just two behind Chris Sabo, who had 30 steals in his rookie year of 1988. Bob Bescher, who stole 54 bases in 1909, holds the franchise rookie record.
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.