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Cueto still making progress in comeback attempt

The status of Johnny Cueto hangs over the Reds as they march toward their third postseason berth in four years.

It’s not a question, at this point, of whether the Reds make the playoffs, but of who they will face and where they will start. Baseball Prospectus determined the Reds’ odds of making the playoffs either as the Central Division champ or as the wild card at 99.8 percent through Sunday.

It’s a similar deal with Cueto. Barring setbacks, he will try to pitch again in the next three weeks. The question is when and where and in what capacity and whether he will perform well enough to make the postseason roster.

Cueto threw 30 pitches to teammates on Sunday, and he’ll throw at least one more bullpen session this week before the Reds make any decisions about him. He hasn’t appeared in a game since June 29 when he went on the disabled list for a third time this season with a strained right lat muscle.

“More of the same next time,” said Reds manager Dusty Baker on Monday before the start of a three-game series against the Cubs at Great American Ball Park. “We’ll try to stretch him out to another inning. We’ll stretch him out to 45 (15 pitches per inning).

“We just hope when he gets back in the game, he doesn’t have one of those 25- to 30-pitch innings, which can happen. He looked pretty good. We’re just going to have to reassess his health. The doctors are looking at him again today to see if he’s the same. As long as he’s the same, I’m happy about it.”

Baker said everything depends on Cueto’s body and the club’s needs.

“We don’t want to force him in there,” he said. “Even though he wants to force it coming back, we don’t want him to come back because he thinks he’s ready and end up hurting his shoulder. There’s a certain amount of time you need. It’s been like 10 weeks. It’s just great to have him as a possibility.”

Speedy Billy: Billy Hamilton, who turned 23 Monday, is the first player in modern Major League history to record a stolen base in each of his first four career appearances. With one more stolen base, Hamilton would be tied for second on the Reds, behind only Shin-Soo Choo (17).

“Billy’s really going to help us down the stretch,” right fielder Jay Bruce said. “He already has.”

Final stretch: The Reds are 31-17 against the Cubs, Brewers, Pirates and Mets, four of the last five teams they’ll see in the regular season. They haven’t played the Astros.

Division-leading St. Louis plays the Brewers, Mariners, Rockies, Nationals and Cubs in the last three weeks. It’s 24-11 against those teams.

The Pirates, who began Monday tied with the Reds for second, face the Rangers, Cubs, Padres and Reds. It’s 16-12 against those teams, but hasn’t played Texas yet.

Looking ahead: Tony Cingrani (7-3, 2.80) and Mike Leake (12-6, 3.46) start tonight and Wednesday, respectively, for the Reds in the final two games of the series against the Cubs. Edwin Jackson (7-15, 4.91) and Jeff Samardzija (8-11, 4.29) start for Chicago.

Cingrani is 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA against the Cubs this season. Leake is 2-0 against the Cubs this season with a 2.18 ERA.

Jackson has seen the Reds once this season, giving up four earned runs in five innings. Samardzija is 0-1 against the Reds with a 4.13 ERA.

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