While the results weren't always there for Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto this past month, his final regular-season start could make him the first Reds pitcher to win 20 games in 24 years.
Cueto and the Reds finish their series with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday at PNC Park.
An NL Cy Young Award candidate, Cueto (19-9, 2.83 ERA) recently went through a rough stretch, losing his first three starts in September with an 8.22 ERA.
However, the right-hander has turned things around and looks ready for the playoffs. After tossing six scoreless innings against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 20, he allowed two runs in seven innings of a 4-2 victory over Milwaukee on Tuesday.
On Sunday, Cueto will try to become the first Reds pitcher to reach 20 wins since Danny Jackson recorded 23 in 1988 and the first right-hander since Sammy Ellis (22) and Jim Maloney (20) in 1965.
"That's the goal I want," Cueto told the Reds' official website. "God willing, I will get that one, because that's my goal. If I keep pitching and working like I am now, I should be OK. Thank God, those bad games are way behind me."
Cueto is 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA in three starts against the Pirates this year and has done an effective job at minimizing Andrew McCutchen, holding the MVP candidate hitless in six at-bats while striking him out twice in 2012.
McCutchen hit a walk-off, solo homer in a 2-1 victory Saturday. A day after being no-hit by Homer Bailey, the Pirates put up just enough offense, with Alex Presley hitting a run-scoring double in the seventh.
Pittsburgh (77-81) snapped a three-game losing streak and won for the fifth time in 22 games.
"Wins have been hard to come by," said manager Clint Hurdle. "We didn't let this one get away after we took the one-run lead and they came back and tied it in the eighth. We were able to answer back. It was a good team victory tonight."
McCutchen's homer -- his only hit in five at-bats -- was his 31st of the season. Batting .329 this season, McCutchen was 0 for 10 in his previous three games and is hitting .184 (9 for 49) over the last 13.
As a once-promising season nears an end, the Pirates will try to win their second series in the last nine and keep alive hope of a .500 season. They could be helped by not having to face Jay Bruce, Zack Cozart and Scott Rolen, who are all expected to have a day off Sunday.
The Reds (95-63) fell a game behind Washington for the best record in the NL and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. They have scored five runs in the last four games.
"We still have some time," acting Cincinnati manager Chris Speier said. "We'd sure like to see it turn around sooner than later."
Wandy Rodriguez (12-13, 3.79) will try to win his fifth straight decision Sunday.
Rodriguez is 4-0 with a 2.78 ERA in his last six starts. He gave up three runs on a pair of homers over six innings of a 10-6 win in New York on Tuesday. All three runs came in the first inning.
"It was dramatic," Hurdle said of how Rodriguez bounced back. "To be that close to being taken out of the game. He just kept getting better."
Rodriguez is 0-1 with a 3.95 ERA in two starts against the Reds since joining the Pirates.
Drew Stubbs, who's 0 for 7 in this series, is 6 for 13 with a homer and double against the left-hander this year.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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