CINCINNATI -- Brian Duensing's first start of the season began well enough. For three innings, Duensing was making the pitches he wanted to make where he wanted to make them. Then the wall hit the Twins' left-hander. Hard.
Duensing gave up four runs in the fourth inning of his first start since last September and the Twins were held to three hits while being shut out for the seventh time this season in a 6-0 loss Saturday afternoon against the Reds at Great American Ball Park.
Duensing is the 10th starting pitcher used by the Twins this season. While this was his 51st career start, he had made all 30 of his appearances this season out of the bullpen before Saturday. He went through the first three innings against the Reds allowing just one hit and one walk on 44 pitches before running into trouble in the bottom of the fourth.
"Once I got into the fourth inning, that was into territory we hadn't gone yet because I hadn't thrown that many pitches before," said Duensing. "I hit a wall. I had nothing in there and the ball started getting left up. It was more running straight across the plate. When that happens, it's easier for batters to get swings on the ball and make contact."
Duensing (1-3) walked Reds first baseman Joey Votto for the second time in the game to start the fourth inning. Brandon Phillips followed with a 418-foot blast off the batter's eye in center field for his 10th home run of the season to make it 2-0. Duensing then gave up a single to right by Jay Bruce and an RBI double to Scott Rolen to end his day after three-plus innings and 63 pitches.
"We got some offense at the right time," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Brandon continues to be hot and that's huge, especially when we get a lead like that."
Anthony Swarzak replaced Duensing and allowed Rolen to score on a sacrifice bunt by Reds starter Johnny Cueto Cueto before getting out of the inning. Swarzak gave the Twins a good effort by going four innings, giving up just one run on three hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
"It was right at that 50-60 [pitch] mark where it looked like it flattened out on him," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Duensing. "That's to be expected. We're trying to stretch him out and get his pitch counts up there. You just didn't know when it was going to happen. He was throwing the ball really well the first few innings and he used all of his pitches."
Duensing allowed four runs on four hits with two walks and one strikeout. His ERA was 3.12 in 34 2/3 innings entering the game and he had not allowed a run in seven of his last eight appearances.
"I was hoping to get through four [innings] and even five with a chance to win," said Duensing. "That didn't happen, but those first three innings, I felt under control and felt like I had good balance. If I was missing, I felt like I was missing where they couldn't hurt me. I was throwing with a lot of conviction and a lot of confidence.
"I feel like that's something I didn't have last year. As a starter, I was more hoping or willing the ball to where I wanted it to go. This was only three innings, but I felt good and this is something I can take to the next start."
Cueto, utilizing a Luis Tiant-styled torso twist in his delivery, went seven innings and struck out nine for Cincinnati as he earned his seventh win of the season. The Twins never got a runner past second against Cueto, who struck out the final three batters he faced after hitting catcher Ryan Doumit to lead off the seventh inning.
Third baseman Trevor Plouffe had been hitting .371 in the month of June, but struck out three times against Cueto.
"I think you saw the deception and the mix that he has," Gardenhire said of Cueto. "The fastball jumps pretty good, he backdoors the breaking ball pretty well and he's got a great changeup. He's got that mix and they gave him a little bit of a lead there. He was tough. We made him work early, made him throw some pitches, but as it went along, we never could get any big hits against him or put anything together. As advertised. Good stuff."
Joe Mauer started at first base for the Twins, his first start since last Sunday against Milwaukee due to a thigh bruise. He had a double with two outs in the fourth inning, but was stranded there when Cueto struck out Josh Willingham.
Kevin Goheen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.