LOS ANGELES -- No matter how good their starting pitching has been of late, the Reds can't seem to find any way to separate themselves from their National League Central rivals.
On Tuesday night after being defeated by a 3-1 score against the Dodgers, the Reds found themselves back in a first-place tie with the persistent Pirates. Cincinnati had the top of the division to itself since starting a six-game win streak on June 11.
"We'll go back and start all over again," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Reds starting pitchers own a 2.20 ERA over their last six games, but the club has a 3-3 record so far on the 11-game West Coast swing. That's partially because of some strong opposing starting pitching -- from the likes of Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong in San Francisco and Chris Capuano on Tuesday at Chavez Ravine.
While Johnny Cueto pitched well enough to win with seven innings of three-run baseball, he lost his second straight bid for a 10th victory. Capuano gave up only one run and six hits over six innings in the no-decision.
"That's life. I did my job," Cueto said through an interpreter. "I didn't have the help I want, but that's the way it goes."
Cincinnati threatened with two-out rallies in middle innings but left the bases loaded in the fourth inning and left runners on second and third base in the fifth when Jay Bruce struck out on a 1-2 slider as Capuano made pitches when he needed.
"I was aware they've got Cueto on the other side and he's pretty effectively cruising and I knew one pitch could be the difference," Capuano said. "I was happy I made good pitches there."
Cueto (9-5), who allowed seven hits with no walks and seven strikeouts, was enjoying another solid evening before running into trouble in the seventh. It was a 1-1 game when James Loney hit a one-out single to center field and Luis Cruz followed with an RBI double to the wall in left-center field. Loney scored just ahead of the cutoff throw at the plate, as Cruz took third base.
Cruz broke for home as next batter Tony Gwynn attempted a suicide squeeze bunt. Cueto's pitch sailed high and over catcher Ryan Hanigan to the backstop as Cruz slid into the plate. He was credited with stealing home to give Los Angeles a two-run lead.
"We knew they were going to do it at some point in time," Baker said. "That's what the pitcher is taught to do, whenever you hear 'squeeze,' you have to throw the ball up, which Johnny did. It was too far up to bunt and too far up for Hanigan to catch it."
The Dodgers' bullpen retired six of seven batters over its final two scoreless innings to shut the Reds down. Lefty Scott Elbert (1-1) came in and got Joey Votto to fly out with a man on to end the seventh and earn the win.
It was a scoreless game until the fifth inning when the Reds took a 1-0 lead against Capuano. Cueto led off with a single lofted to right field. With two outs, Votto lined a single to left field, and Brandon Phillips followed with an RBI double lined to center field that scored Cueto. Capuano escaped without further damage by striking out Bruce.
"We have to capitalize whenever we have the opportunity," Baker said.
Cueto retired 15 of his first 17 batters with only two singles over five scoreless innings before giving up a run. Pinch-hitter Elian Herrera led off the sixth with a single and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt. There were two outs as Bobby Abreu batted when Cueto was called for a balk for flinching on the rubber. Abreu followed with a hard single into center field that scored Herrera with the tying run.
"He threw the ball well tonight, but we only scored one run too," Baker said. "We had some opportunities earlier in the game and Capuano squashed that. He threw a good game tonight, too. You knew it would be a good game with both of those guys pitching."
Three years ago, on July 6, 2009, at Philadelphia when he didn't make the NL All-Star team as he thought he deserved, Cueto responded with the worst outing of his career -- nine earned runs over two-thirds of an inning for a 22-1 loss to the Phillies.
Cueto was enraged about being left off of Tony La Russa's 2012 NL squad, but it showed no signs of affecting him on the mound in his first outing since being passed over. Through a Reds spokesman, Cueto declined to talk about the All-Star Game.
"I felt great. I felt really aggressive today," Cueto said.