The way Johnny Cueto has pitched against the Pirates this season, he's made getting taunted at PNC Park after he gave up four runs in 3 1/3 innings in last year's National League Wild Card game feel longer than eight months ago.
In two starts against the Pirates since that postseason outing Cueto wishes he could have back, the Reds right-hander has dominated. In back-to-back April starts, Cueto went nine innings in both games against the Bucs, shutting them out to go with 12 strikeouts in the first start and allowing one run on three hits in the sequel.
Cueto makes his third start against the Pirates on Tuesday in the Steel City when the two National League Central foes kick off a three-game series.
Cueto has been good against just about everyone else this year. He is in the top two in the Majors in the following categories: ERA (1.85), WHIP (0.775), complete games (three) and innings pitched (102).
As the days to the All-Star Game wind down, talk of which pitchers should not only represent their league, but get the start, heats up. And Cueto is one of the top candidates to get that honor for the National League.
Reds manager Bryan Price gave his ace a serious endorsement.
"I don't think there's any question," Price said. "He's at the top of the list for me as far as National League starters. Maybe I'm biased because I see all of his starts. What he's doing is special. I wish he had the won-loss record which would support what he's doing in every other facet of his game."
Pirates: Cumpton settling into rotation
Looking at Brandon Cumpton's string of starts since he replaced Wandy Rodriguez in the Pirates' rotation on May 26, one of the four jumps out: His outing against the Dodgers, when he got knocked around for 10 runs on 11 hits in just 3 2/3 innings.
But the rought start aside, Cumpton has provided some stability in a rotation that has dealt with a lot of turnover and injury in the last three weeks.
In his other three starts after taking Rodriguez's rotation spot, Cumpton has gone at least five innings and not allowed more than three runs. This includes his last outing, when he limited the Cubs to two runs on five hits in five frames. Cumpton also pitched five or more innings and gave up three earned runs or fewer in all five starts he made in the 2013 season.
Cumpton will also try to continue a recent trend of strong appearances by Bucs' starters. In three weekend starts against the Marlins, the trio of Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton and Vance Worley combined to pitch 22 innings, give up four runs and 17 hits and strike out 18 against three walks.
Conversely, the Pirates' bullpen was charged with 11 of the 15 runs the Marlins scored in the series.
Reds: Cingrani makes first relief appearance
Tony Cingrani took the mound much later than he's been used to on Sunday, making his first showing out of the Reds bullpen this season.
Cingrani was recently shifted to a reliever role as Mat Latos rejoined Cincinnati's rotation. Cingrani pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth against the Brewers in what turned out to be a lopsided win -- his first relief appearance since June 28, 2013.
The left-hander struggled as a starter this season, going 2-7 with a 4.68 ERA and 1.525 WHIP in 11 appearances. Price knows Cingrani can be used as a long reliever, but said he will not be afraid to turn to him for key, late-inning outs.
"If we get into these closer games down at the end, I wouldn't be reluctant to use Tony in a high leverage situation by any means," Price said. "The key to having success is having seven guys in your bullpen you're comfortable using in those tight situations."
• Pirates left fielder Starling Marte has found his stroke after an 0-for-23 slump had him on the bench earlier this month. Hitting in the No. 2 hole, Marte went 7-for-16 in three weekend games against the Marlins, raising his season average to .261.
• The upcoming series against the Reds continues a stretch of 13 out of 16 games against divisional opponents for the Pirates. The Bucs are 4-3 during that span and are 2-5 against the Reds this season.
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.