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MIL@CIN: Cueto uses arm, bat and defense to beat Crew

A lot can change in six years.

The Reds and Rangers last met in June 2007, when Texas took two out of three from Cincinnati.

First-year manager Ron Washington watched his team improve to 26-43 with a pair of victories at Great American Ball Park. Kenny Lofton hit leadoff for the Rangers in the third contest. Frank Catalanotto, Adam Melhuse, Ramon Vazquez and Travis Metcalf filled out the bottom portion of Washington's lineup. Sammy Sosa made a cameo as a pinch-hitter, and Eric Gagne lowered his ERA to 0.50 with a scoreless ninth inning.

The Reds fell to 27-43 after the three-game series. They dropped the finale, 11-4, despite six hits from the middle of their order: Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion. A rookie center fielder named Josh Hamilton batted sixth for Cincinnati and went 0-for-3 with a walk.

Only Brandon Phillips, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey remain on the Reds' roster from that series. Bailey was two starts into his Major League career. Joey Votto and Ryan Hanigan were September callups that season. Ian Kinsler is the only current Rangers player who was on the active roster for that series. Nelson Cruz split the season between the big leagues and Triple-A. David Murphy joined the club via a trade later that summer -- for Gagne.

On Friday, the two franchises will reconvene at the Ballpark in Arlington, where they will play a three-game set. They will do so in much different circumstances than the last time they battled. This time, both teams are jockeying for playoff positioning, with Texas fighting Oakland for the American League West lead and Cincinnati eyeballing St. Louis and Pittsburgh in its pursuit of the National League Central crown.

Cincinnati visited the Ballpark in Arlington in 2002 and went 1-2.

In the series opener, the Reds will turn to right-hander Johnny Cueto (4-1, 3.21 ERA), who is coming off of his worst showing of the season. Last Friday in Phoenix, Cueto surrendered seven runs on 11 hits over 4 1/3 innings. It marked the most earned runs he had allowed since Sept. 22, 2010.

"Things did not all go well," Cueto said after his last start via translator Tomas Vera. "Like we say, it's just one outing -- and a bad outing. I have a lot more outings coming. I just have to keep my head up and continue going."

Martin Perez will make his third start of the season for Texas. The 22-year-old southpaw totes a 1-1 record with a 3.65 ERA.

The series will pit Washington against his longtime friend Dusty Baker, the Reds' skipper. Baker served as Washington's mentor when he broke in with the Dodgers in the late '70s.

"We have a longtime relationship and history," Washington said. "He took me under his wing when I got to the big leagues. I call him a lot and ask for advice. I just hope when I make some moves with my players, they deliver. It's going to be fun to see Dusty and play Dusty, but it's not me against Dusty but my players against his players."

Reds: Broxton on the mend
• Pitching coach Bryan Price said it is "very unlikely" that setup man Jonathan Broxton will return from the disabled list on Saturday, the earliest date he is eligible to rejoin the club. Broxton began throwing lightly on Tuesday as he works his way back from a flexor mass strain in his right elbow. Broxton, 2-2 with a 4.33 ERA this season, will initiate a throwing program on Friday.

"He's not pain-free yet," head trainer Paul Lessard said.

• Phillips is expected to return from the paternity list in time for Friday's game.

"That will add to our offense," Baker said. "It will be good to have him back."

Rangers: Perez eyeing consecutive strong starts 
• In his first big league outing since late May, Perez limited the Cardinals to two runs on five hits and one walk in seven innings on Saturday. He earned his first victory of the season and needed only 82 pitches. The performance left his skipper impressed.

"You didn't see him lose his presence," Washington said. "He just kept pounding the strike zone, changing speeds and working fast. More than anything, though, his mound presence never changed and never wavered. He never had to calm himself down one bit. He was in charge tonight.

"I've always seen the stuff, but this is the first time he's shown he's a big league pitcher."

Perez stressed the importance of throwing strikes.

"Just throw a lot of strikes and attack the zone early," Perez said. "Don't get behind in the count. You get behind in the count and you get in trouble. I just need to do the same thing I did last week."

• The Rangers return home, where they are 22-15, despite a 4-7 mark on their previous homestand. This time, they'll play nine games against the Reds, Mariners and Astros.

"At that point, we weren't on our game," Murphy said. "We're playing good baseball now, and we tend to play better at home. I know our offense tends to perform better at home. It's always good to be at home for 10 or 11 days. Hopefully, we can take advantage of that and win some games and win some series."

Worth noting 
On Wednesday in Oakland, the Reds were shut out for the fifth time this season. The Reds have blanked their opponent on nine occasions this year.

The Rangers were retired in order in the first inning on Thursday. They have gone 19 straight games without scoring in the first inning, their longest drought since 2004. They have not had an extra-base hit in the first inning in their past 29 games. That's the longest drought since Oakland went 31 games in 1994. The Rangers have been outscored in the first inning, 34-18. The 18 runs are the fewest in the Majors. Comments