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CHC@CIN: Cueto fans eight, holds Cubs to three runs

Johnny Cueto and Francisco Liriano have faced one another twice this season, with Cueto besting Liriano on both occasions at Great American Ball Park. The first was on April 16, in the midst of Cueto's historic early-season dominance; the right-hander tossed a shutout, allowing only three hits, walking none and striking out 12.

Cueto wasn't as stellar on July 13, allowing three runs over six innings, but he still managed to beat Liriano again.

The two will meet for a third time in Sunday's series finale between the Reds and Pirates, as the Bucs seek a three-game sweep of their National League Central foes.

Cueto and Liriano were quite familiar with each other even before this season began. The two faced off in the 2013 NL Wild Card playoff last October. Liriano was masterful in that contest, allowing one run over seven innings to notch the win in Pittsburgh's first postseason victory in 21 years.

Nearly a year later, the Bucs are following a similar path as they make another postseason push. But things are quite different for the Reds.

The Pirates' 3-2 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday pulled them to two games behind the Brewers in the NL Central and a game behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot, after late games for Milwaukee (loss) and St. Louis (doubleheader split). Pittsburgh has been hot, winning seven of its last nine after a season-high seven-game skid.

The Reds, meanwhile, continue to fade in the playoff race. Cincinnati has lost 15 of its last 21 games dating back to Aug. 7, falling to nine games back in the NL Central after Saturday's loss. They remained 6 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot as St. Louis played the nightcap of its doubleheader against the Cubs.

With the forecast in Pittsburgh calling for rain on Sunday, Cueto likely won't be pleased. His last start, a loss to the Cubs on Tuesday, was interrupted in the first inning by a 50-minute rain delay that caused him problems gripping the baseball thereafter.

"I was pretty upset," Cueto said, with catcher Brayan Pena translating. "It was raining. The baseball was very slippery. It's difficult. … I'm not making excuses or anything like that, but it took a little time for me to get warm again."

Liriano tossed six scoreless innings in his last outing, but he settled for a no-decision after the Cardinals came from behind to beat the Bucs, 3-2, last Monday. In nine starts since returning from a stint on the disabled list due to a left oblique strain, the left-hander has gone 2-4 with a 3.12 ERA.

"His fastball was terrific," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said after Liriano's last start. "His velocity was firm, he was able to get it to both sides. A couple jams, he was able to get out of. I thought it was a real good game from Frank. A real good effort. Solid, strong."

Though Liriano beat the Reds in the NL Wild Card Game last season, he hasn't solved Cincinnati during the regular season, in which he is 0-5 with a 4.25 ERA in seven career starts.

Reds: Bruce working through struggles
Right fielder Jay Bruce is having the worst offensive season of his career, batting .217 with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs through 114 games. He's drawn 44 walks and struck out 130 times. On Thursday against the Cubs, he was 0-for-5 with a franchise record-tying five strikeouts.

"I know it's been miserable to watch for everybody. I understand it," Bruce said. "It's miserable for me to watch, too.

"It's something right now that I take a lot of pride in finding those little, tiny nuances that are going to help me be a better player moving forward."

Bruce admitted Saturday that he's been playing at less than 100 percent since returning from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee back in May.

"There was no rest [following surgery]," Bruce said. "I came back in two weeks, healthy enough to play. I'm a big believer that if you're on the field, you're expected to perform to a certain level. I haven't been performing well. It's led me to trying to do things with my swing, all kinds of stuff."

Pirates: Morel recalled as Alvarez, Snider nurse injuries
The Pirates recalled infielder Brent Morel from Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday, optioning left-hander Jeff Locke to Indianapolis, though Locke will be back with the club on Monday when rosters can expand to 40 players from 25.

Morel provides some bench depth, while Pedro Alvarez (sprained left foot) and Travis Snider (left hamstring discomfort) recover from injuries.

Morel is 3-for-21 (.143) in 12 games for the Bucs this season. In 92 games with Indianapolis, he batted .271 with 19 doubles, two triples, four home runs and 53 RBIs.

Worth Noting
• With their 3-2 win over the Reds on Saturday, the Pirates clinched their first series win over Cincinnati this season (1-4).

• Billy Hamilton's next stolen base will tie the Reds' franchise record for steals by a rookie -- 54 -- set by Bob Bescher in 1909.

• Todd Frazier is 5-for-17 (.294) with a double, two home runs and three RBIs in his career against Liriano. Devin Mesoraco is 4-for-9 (.444) with two doubles against the left-hander.

• Andrew McCutchen is 14-for-52 (.269) with four doubles, a triple, four home runs and six RBIs in his career against Cueto. Josh Harrison has also had success against the right-hander, batting .400 (4-for-10) with two doubles and two RBIs.

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