After returning from his second trip to the disabled list this season, Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto knew recovering mentally from a strained right shoulder would be his biggest challenge.
In the first inning on Sunday afternoon, Cueto admitted to being tentative. But after his shoulder felt no ill-effects in the first, it was smooth sailing for Cincinnati's ace.
Cueto, who was reinstated from the DL prior to the game, gave up just one run on five hits over six innings, and Jay Bruce hit a solo home run, lifting Cincinnati to a 5-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers before 39,088 fans Sunday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.
"I won't say we were holding our breath, but it was great to see him back," said Bruce of Cueto. "He's such a huge part of this team. I'm glad everything went well."
With the victory, Cincinnati improved to 42-28, its best record through 70 games since 1995.
Carlos Gomez hit his 12th home run for the Brewers in the first inning. But that was all the offense Milwaukee could muster against Cueto (4-0).
After retiring the first two batters he faced, Cueto's first pitch to Gomez was hit in the left-field seats, putting the Brewers ahead, 1-0. Jonathan Lucroy followed with a double before Cueto got Logan Schafer to fly out to right.
"In the first inning, I was thinking too much," Cueto said, through an interpreter. "I was making sure nothing would happen. I came back with a different mentality after that."
Cincinnati tied the score 1-1 in the second when Xavier Paul scored from third on a perfectly executed suicide squeeze bunt by Cueto. The run, precipitated by Rickie Weeks' throwing error, was unearned for Brewers starter Wily Peralta.
Cueto said his biggest concern on the squeeze play was getting hit by the pitch. "I just closed my eyes (on the bunt)," he said, smiling.
In the fourth, Zack Cozart doubled and scored on a groundout to put the Reds ahead.
Bruce followed with his 12th home run, a 469-foot blast on a 3-0 pitch from Peralta, to make the score 3-1.
Cueto allowed just two hits over the next four innings. After a 1-2-3 fourth, his pitch count was just 57, which put Reds manager Dusty Baker at ease.
"I never worry about Johnny Cueto out there," Baker said. "Today, I just wanted to make sure his arm was OK."
Lucroy said Cueto didn't look like a guy who'd just returned from a second stint on the DL. "He threw pretty well for them," Lucroy said. "He was mixing up his pitches really well."
Peralta (4-8) needed 77 pitches to get through four innings. He got a much needed 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, but exited after 5 1/3 innings, having allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits.
Donald Lutz's pinch two-run single off Michael Gonzalez increased Cincinnati's lead to 5-1 in the sixth. It was Lutz's first hit since June 4.
"It was a big confidence boost for me," Lutz said. "Things have been rough lately."
Milwaukee had runners on first and third in the seventh, but Alfredo Simon fanned Nori Aoki to end the inning.
Simon earned his first save of the season by pitching three shutout innings in relief.
"Offensively, we didn't do much," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. "Cueto's a great pitcher. We didn't have many opportunities against him."
NOTES: Prior to Sunday's game, the Reds reinstated Cueto from the 15-day disabled list and optioned RHP Pedro Villarreal to Triple-A Louisville. Cueto had been on the DL since June 5. He also was on the DL from April 15 to May 19 with a strained right lat muscle. ... Brewers RHP Alfredo Figaro was named Tuesday's starting pitcher for the opener of a three-game series in Houston. ... Cincinnati is 10 games into a stretch of 17 straight games without a day off. ... 3B Aramis Ramirez will be the Brewers' designated hitter for at least two games during the three-game interleague series at Houston. ... Milwaukee's streak of six straight quality starts ended. ... The Reds now have won 10 of their past 12 games against the Brewers at Great American Ball Park. ... Gomez hit his first home run on the road since April 27. ... Simon recorded the Reds' first three-inning save since Micah Owings on Sept. 1, 2009, vs. Pittsburgh.