(Sports Network) - Struggles on offense cost the Washington Nationals the chance to open the second half with a three-game sweep. Chances at the plate could be hard to come by again tonight against the Cincinnati Reds' Johnny Cueto.
Cueto will look to continue his solid season and keep the Nats off the scoreboard for a third straight contest Monday night in the opener of a four- game series at Great American Ball Park.
The 24-year-old Cueto went 8-2 with a 3.42 earned run average in the first half, going undefeated in his final four starts (2-0) before the break while pitching to a 0.83 ERA over his last five starts, allowing just three earned runs in that span.
Cueto, though, did not factor into the decision of his final two starts, including July 8 in Philadelphia. The right-hander allowed two runs, one earned, on four hits and two walks over seven innings of his team's eventual 4-3 loss in extra innings.
Cueto is 2-2 with a 5.56 ERA in four career starts versus Washington, but struggled when he last faced them. In that Aug. 15 meeting, he was drilled for seven runs in just 2 2/3 innings.
J.D. Martin got the victory for the Nationals on that day, holding the Reds to just one unearned run over six innings on his only career start versus Cincinnati. He'll seek similar results tonight after notching his first victory of 2010 on July 7 versus the Padres.
The 27-year-old righty, who had lost his first four decisions of the season, limited San Diego to a pair of runs on six hits over 5 2/3 innings and is pitching to a 3.35 ERA in seven starts this year. Martin is winless in five road starts in 2010, going 0-3 with a 3.77 ERA.
Martin may be working with limited room for error after the Nationals were shut out in back-to-back games by the Marlins over the weekend after taking Friday's opener by a 4-0 margin. Washington lost two of three despite outhitting Florida, 27-14, to begin a 10-game road trip.
Ryan Zimmerman and Cristian Guzman each had a single and stole a base for Washington, which has dropped four of five and wasted six innings of one-run ball by Craig Stammen.
"I had good breaking stuff today, good slider, good curveball," Stammen said. "My sinker was good. The wind was helping my ball move today, so it was tough on the hitters."
The Reds have also struggled offensively as of late. They dropped a pair of 1-0 games before the break, but rebounded to score 11 runs in taking the first two contests of their three-game weekend set with the Rockies. However, they suffered another 1-0 loss in Sunday's finale to lose for the fifth time in seven games overall and fall a half-game back of the Cardinals for first place in the National League Central.
"That 1-0 score is killing us right now," remarked Cincinnati skipper Dusty Baker. "In all of them we had opportunities with runners at third and less than two outs."
That includes the ninth inning, when Drew Stubbs singled with one out before going to third on Ryan Hanigan's pinch-hit base hit. Chris Heisey and Brandon Phillips then both struck out to end the game as Cincinnati stranded 10 runners in all.
Travis Wood, who got a no-decision on July 10 versus the Phillies despite taking a perfect game into the ninth inning of a 1-0 loss, gave up just a run on three hits over six innings.
The Reds were without All-Star third baseman Scott Rolen for a second straight game due to illness, while Jay Bruce was given the day off to rest. Both players could return tonight.
The Reds took two of three in Washington on June 4-6, but it was the Nationals who took three of four at Cincinnati last season.