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Reds embark on key 16-game stretch

Monday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates marked the start of what is expected to be 16 consecutive games the Cincinnati Reds will play against teams which currently have winning records.

Following the four-game series against Pittsburgh at Great American Ball Park, the Reds will play three at Arizona (37-32 entering Monday), two at Oakland (42-29) and three at Texas (38-31) before returning home for four against San Francisco (35-33).

“Yeah, you look at big stretches,” Baker said. “We’ve been through the stretches where we’ve played good teams before, but a lot of times you don’t know the good teams until you get into this part of the season. The way I look at it is we’re playing a stretch against good teams, but they’re also playing us, too.”

The Reds entered Monday with a record of 32-10 against teams with losing records and 10-18 against those .500 or better.

“It’s a little bit overrated,” Reds right fielder Jay Bruce said. “It’s important to play good baseball regardless of who you play. I strongly believe if we play the baseball we’re capable of playing, we can beat anybody on the field. If we play well, we’ll beat them. If we don’t, we won’t.”

While all the games obviously count the same, third baseman Todd Frazier said the games against the better teams feel like they mean more.

“You’re supposed to be the same with every team, but that’s not how it goes,” he said. “I remember back in high school and college, when we played those rival teams all of a sudden I get the goosebumps, I get more energy, I don’t sleep as much. I still have that. And if I start losing it, that’s when I shouldn’t be playing the game anymore.”

Cueto’s condition

Reds manager Dusty Baker said Monday it was too early to assess how starting pitcher Johnny Cueto felt after making his first start in 16 days Sunday.

“He’s going to have his normal soreness after he pitches,” Baker said. “We’ll probably be able to tell more (today).”

Even if Cueto is pain-free today, Baker said he will continue to be concerned after every outing by Cueto, the staff ace who has already spent two stints on the disabled list this season with a strained right lat (April 15 to May 9) and a strained right shoulder (June 5-16).

“Yeah, you’re going to be concerned for probably now until the end of the season,” Baker said. “But he knows how to stay sharp. He knows how to work now. He knows what his body feels like. He knows what’s required, which is part of maturing into a pitcher. He’s not a little kid anymore. When he was up here out of Double-A, he was a kid. Now he’s a man.

“Back then he didn’t know how to train,” Baker added. “Most of us don’t know how to train when we’re young. You think just going to play some basketball is working out. You know how much is too much weight and what you need and when to get in the whirlpool and when to get in the ice tub and when to get a rub. There’s a lot of things that you learn over the course of time.

“He’s not a seasoned vet, but he pitches like one.”

Speed pitch

NASCAR drivers Kevin Harvick and Bobby Labonte threw out the ceremonial first pitches Monday night at Great American Ball Park as part of the second annual Reds Racing Night.

The duo was in town to help promote the Quaker State 400 race at Kentucky Speedway on June 29.

Roster watch

The Reds sent Chris Heisey to Triple-A Louisville on Monday for a rehab assignment. Heisey has been on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring since April 29.

The team also announced that left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani, who is 3-0 with a 3.15 ERA in seven starts this season, will remain with the Reds and pitch out of the bullpen.

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