HOUSTON (AP) — Dusty Baker had his fingers crossed that Johnny Cueto would be OK in his return from a long stint on the disabled list on Monday night.
After the fifth inning, the manager could breathe a sigh of relief with his ace done for the night after a solid outing.
Cueto threw five scoreless innings and Zack Cozart homered and drove in four runs to help the Reds to a 6-1 win over the Houston Astros.
Pitching for the first time since straining the muscle below his right shoulder on June 28, Cueto (5-2) allowed five hits and struck out five with one walk for the win.
"He was pretty sharp," Baker said. "Had good velocity. Let's hope that he continues to be well, continues to get better, his endurance gets better."
Cincinnati moved five games ahead of Washington for second NL wild card.
Cozart got things going for the Reds with his two-run shot to left field in the second inning. He added a two-RBI single in the fourth.
The return of Cueto, Cincinnati's opening day starter the past two seasons, could be a boost to the Reds as they make a push toward the postseason.
"That's a tremendous shot in the arm for our team," Baker said. "Guys were psyched that he was out there."
And Cueto was excited to be back on the mound after finishing up a third trip to the DL with the same injury.
"I don't have words to describe it," he said through a translator. "It's something really incredible for me to go that long without pitching, and I came in today and feel really good today."
He lasted 82 pitches on Monday, and didn't allow more than one base runner in an inning until the fifth when Carlos Corporan and L.J. Hoes hit back-to-back singles with one out.
Brandon Barnes grounded into a force play that left Hoes out at second before Cueto walked Jonathan Villar, eliciting a visit to the mound from pitching coach Brian Price.
Cueto escaped the jam when he struck out Jose Altuve to end the inning and his night. Cueto pumped his fist before slowly walking off the mound.
"(Price) told me: 'This is your last hitter,'" Cueto said. "So I was one out away and he is a great hitter, so I had to make an out no matter what and I did it. So I felt really happy."
Houston manager Bo Porter said Cueto certainly didn't look like someone who hadn't pitched since June.
"(When) a guy misses a lot of time you think to yourself that maybe he's going to be rusty, maybe he's going to have a hard time finding the strike zone," Porter said. "But he didn't have any of those little effects."
Erik Bedard (4-11) allowed four hits and four runs in four innings in his return from a stint in the bullpen for the loss.
It was his first start since Aug. 21 and the loss leaves him without a win as a starter since June 26. He made three relief appearances between starts and picked up a win in the second one.
Jay Bruce singled to start the second before Cozart's two-out homer to the Crawford Boxes in left field gave Cincinnati a 2-0 lead.
A single by Joey Votto followed by consecutive walks by Bruce and Ryan Ludwick loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth inning. Cozart's line drive to right field scored two to make it 4-0. Ludwick was out at third on the play.
Lucas Harrell replaced Bedard for the fifth inning and walked Shin-Soo Choo and Votto with a single by Brandon Phillips in between to load the bases.
Bruce's single skipped past Harrell and into shallow center field to pad the lead — making it 6-0.
Alfredo Simon replaced Cueto for the sixth inning and Trevor Crowe greeted him with a double. He advanced to third on a fly out and scored on a groundout to make it 6-1.
NOTES: Cincinnati's Mike Leake opposes Jordan Lyles when the series continues on Tuesday. ... LHP Sean Marshall was reinstated from the 60-day DL on Monday. He had been out since May 24 with shoulder tendinitis. RHP Kyle Lotzkar and RHP Josh Ravin were designated for assignment to make room for Cueto and Marshall on the roster. ... Houston All-Star C Jason Castro (right knee) was out of the lineup again as doctors want to give him a few more days to see how he responds to treatment. Castro injured his knee Sept. 2. ... Votto extended his hitting streak in Houston to 22 games.