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Cueto blanks Astros over seven strong frames

Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will stare across the field at a mirror-image opponent this weekend, as both National League Central rivals attempt to gain some momentum and break back to a winning record. Both the Reds and Pirates have started slow and will try to turn things around in Friday's series opener.

The Reds have won three of their last four games and pulled back to a .500 record Thursday, but they haven't had a winning mark since taking two of the season's first three games. The Pirates have had the same kind of season, and they're 9-8 in their last 17 games after starting out with a 2-6 record.

Cincinnati will send Johnny Cueto to the mound in the series opener, and Pittsburgh will counter with veteran Kevin Correia. The Reds earned an extra-innings victory in Thursday's finale against the Cubs, and outfielder Chris Heisey said that his teammates needed that kind of positive result.

"It's a good swing to get on a plane with a win," he said, "as opposed to being down about the loss."

The Reds are 4-6 on the road this season, and they'll be going against a Pittsburgh team that has managed a 5-4 record in its first nine games at home. The Pirates, who haven't had a winning season since 1992, are playing dead even with the pace that saw them finish 72-90 last year.

Cueto has been one of the NL's most dominant starters this season, and he's allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of his first five starts. Cueto threw seven shutout innings in his last start to lead the Reds to a 6-0 victory, and Cincinnati believes it can win every time he starts.

"He's going to give you everything he's got every time he goes out there," said right fielder Jay Bruce after Cueto's last start. "It feels good to go out to the game, and watching this guy, you feel like you're going to win. You feel like if you give him the ball, he'll keep you in the game the entire time."

Correia, meanwhile, will be trying to rebound from his first loss of the season. Correia completed six innings and held the opposition to two earned runs or fewer in each of his first three outings, but he was knocked out in the fifth and took the decision in a 4-3 loss to Atlanta last week.

Reds: Club bringing Mesoraco along slowly
Rookie backstop Devin Mesoraco got the start in Thursday's game and took an 0-for-4 collar against the Cubs. Cincinnati has brought its former first-round Draft pick along slowly, and Mesoraco has gotten just 34 at-bats through the season's first 24 games.

Offense aside, the true difference between Mesoraco and incumbent Ryan Hanigan has been on defense. Hanigan has led the Reds to a 10-4 record and an ERA (2.69) nearly two runs lower than the mark put up when Mesoraco catches (4.58). Cincinnati is 2-8 when Mesoraco starts.

Pirates: McCutchen exits game with stomach flu
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen got the day off on Wednesday -- the last Pirates starter to miss a game all season -- and returned to the lineup for Thursday's game. McCutchen only got two at-bats before leaving the game early due to a stomach flu, but the Bucs expect him back on Friday.

McCutchen dropped to a .297 average on Thursday due to his 0-for-2 showing, and he's still looking for his first home run of the season. The All-Star has just seven RBIs through his first 24 games. Last year, for contrast, McCutchen hit .219 with five home runs and 12 RBIs in his first 25 games.

Worth noting
• Pittsburgh went 10-5 against Cincinnati in 2011 and 6-10 against the Reds during the 2010 campaign.

• Miguel Cairo (38) and Sam LeCure (28) will celebrate their birthdays on Friday. Cairo, sidelined since April 17 with a strained left hamstring, began a Minor League rehab stint on Thursday.

• Cincinnati's pitching staff (2.78 ERA) and starting rotation (3.27) have thrived over the last 12 games.

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