WASHINGTON — In a matchup against Max Scherzer and the first-place Washington Nationals, Johnny Cueto lifted his game to another level — perhaps that of an All-Star.
Cueto pitched a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts, Joey Votto homered and drove in three runs and the Cincinnati Reds beat the Nationals 5-0 Tuesday night.
The potential pitching duel between Cueto and Scherzer never materialized. Cueto kept up his end, retiring the final 15 batters in one of the best performances of his brilliant career.
Cueto (6-5) threw 122 pitches in his fifth career shutout. It was the first time in 210 starts he had at least 11 strikeouts and gave up two hits or fewer.
"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."
Cueto is among the candidates vying to earn a spot on the All-Star roster via a final vote from the fans, and this performance certainly didn't hurt his bid.
"I would love to pitch in the All-Star Game. I want to do it," Cueto said through an interpreter. "It's an All-Star Game in Cincinnati, with my fans in my house with my team."
Scherzer already has a spot on the All-Star roster, but Cueto was clearly the better pitcher on this night.
"People out there, fans know who I am and they know what I do," Cueto said.
Scherzer (9-7) gave up five runs and seven hits in 4 2-3 innings, his shortest outing in more than a year. The five runs were more than the right-hander allowed in his previous four games combined, a stretch that included a no-hitter and a one-hitter.
"I've had stinkers before. It's just part of the deal," Scherzer said. "I don't get fazed by them anymore."
Votto was the main culprit. He doubled in a run in the first inning, hit a solo homer in the third and added an RBI single in the fifth.
But the star was Cueto, who pitched 11th career complete game. 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," 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."
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 the game with a 1.82 ERA and left at 2.12.
"They are a great team," Scherzer said. "I made mistakes. They hit them hard. They hit them far."
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 INF 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) 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) has allowed one earned run in his last two starts for a 0.64 ERA.