WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer has been so good this season, it's almost easy to forget that even the best pitchers have an occasional clunker.
Scherzer (9-7) allowed five runs and seven hits in 4 2-3 innings in his shortest outing in more than a year. He yielded only four runs in his previous four starts, a stretch that included a one-hitter against Milwaukee and a no-hitter against Pittsburgh.
This one, however, was just a huge dud.
"I've had stinkers before. It's just part of the deal," Scherzer said. "I don't get fazed by them anymore."
The performance came just one day after he was named to the NL All-Star team. Scherzer was hurt most by Joey Votto, who had three hits, a homer and three RBIs.
"They are a great team," Scherzer said. "I made mistakes. They hit them hard. They hit them far."
The potential pitching duel between Scherzer and Johnny Cueto never materialized. Cueto kept up his end — striking out 11, allowing only two hits and retiring the final 15 batters in his first complete game of the year — but Scherzer struggled from the outset.
Cueto (6-5) threw 122 pitches in his fifth career shutout. It was the 30th start in the last two seasons in which the right-hander allowed no more than two runs over at least seven innings.
"That was just A-grade stuff," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Command with action. All the deceptive hesitations, quick pitches and still quality strikes. That's really what we needed, was a shutdown game by our ace."
Cueto is among the candidates for a spot on the NL All-Star roster via a final vote from the fans, and this performance certainly didn't hurt his bid.
"He was making a statement, man," catcher Brayan Pena said. "He was showing everybody that he's one of the best pitchers in the National League and the big leagues in general. The fact that he came here, against a great pitcher and a great team, throwing a complete-game shutout is saying something."
Jay Bruce had two hits and an RBI for the Reds, who will try for a 6-0 sweep of the season series Wednesday night.
Scherzer gave up two runs before getting two outs. After Brandon Phillips opened the game with a single, Votto hit an RBI double and scored on a triple by Bruce.
Votto made it 3-0 in the third with his 15th home run, a drive that soared over the right-field wall into the Washington bullpen.
Cincinnati used an RBI single by Votto and a sacrifice fly by Todd Frazier to chase Scherzer in the fifth. He entered with a 1.82 ERA and left at 2.12.
"He has had his nights a lot lately," Nationals manager Matt Williams said, "but tonight wasn't."
Reds: LHP Tony Cingrani (strained left shoulder) was scheduled to pitch for Triple-A Louisville on Tuesday night. ... RHP Anthony DeSclafani is expected to make his next start despite experiencing tightness in his hip region during Monday's start.
Nationals: CF Denard Span (back spasms) and 2B Yunel Escobar (hamstring strain) were both held out of the game. Span received an MRI and will be seeing a specialist for the recurring injury. "It's been very frustrating, to say the least," Span said.
Reds: Rookie right-hander Michael Lorenzen (3-3, 3.58 ERA) makes his 12th big league start in the series finale Wednesday night. He beat the Nationals 8-2 on May 31.
Nationals: Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 4.16 ERA) has allowed one earned run in his last two starts for a 0.64 ERA.