For the first time all season, Johnny Cueto looked human in his last start on May 20 in Washington. The right-hander yielded more than two runs for the first time in 2014, surrendering six earned runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings in a 9-4 loss to the Nationals.
"You know what? I'm human," Cueto said through an interpreter afterward. "This is not over yet. I've just got to keep my head up and keep working. That's all I've got to do."
Cueto will get a chance to return to his early season dominance against the Dodgers in a Memorial Day contest to open a three-game set at Chavez Ravine. In four career starts at Dodger Stadium, he has struggled, going 1-3 with a 4.09 ERA.
"He's human," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He's 9-for-10 in not just quality starts, but dominant starts. He doesn't have to do anything different. The thing that he did [May 20] was the unique thing, in the fact that he didn't pitch great. So I think just showing up and doing what he's been doing; I don't think he was ever in a position where he had to fix something. He just wasn't real sharp."
Cueto's counterpart on Monday is scheduled to be left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who will look to build on the momentum of Josh Beckett's no-hitter on Sunday. Ryu is coming off a solid outing against the Mets in New York on May 21, in which he went six innings and gave up two runs on nine hits, while walking one and striking out nine. It was his first start since April 27, after which he went on the disabled list with inflammation in his left shoulder blade.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Ryu's success upon returning from injury was a result of his smooth, repeatable delivery.
"He threw a 'pen [session] after 14 days and threw every pitch exactly where he wanted," Mattingly said after Ryu's outing on Wednesday. "You get the feeling he's always able to do that. He's a guy that doesn't throw much between starts and he still has that touch."
Ryu has faced the Reds once in his career, beating Cincinnati with a masterful seven-inning performance in which he gave up a run on two hits, while walking one and fanning nine, on July 27 of last season.
The Reds had a tough travel schedule ahead of them on Sunday night after the conclusion of their nationally televised series finale with the Cardinals, having to hop on a plane bound for Los Angeles to play the Dodgers on Memorial Day at 5:10 pm PT.
But Price said that's a part of the game sometimes.
"We both benefit from the national exposure, and that's good for our club," Price said. "It's not great -- the travel for both teams -- especially us going to Los Angeles to play a 5 p.m. game, going through three time zones. That won't be an excuse for our play. We need to come out there and play well in this series in L.A. But it wouldn't be the way that any of us would draw it up, by any means. You have to embrace the fact that we're on a national stage, take advantage of that, and play a good ballgame."
Reds: Defense shining
The Reds entered their series finale against the Cardinals on Sunday night with the highest fielding percentage (.989) and fewest errors (19) in the Majors. Cincinnati's defensive effort has been a bright spot amid early season struggles resulting from several key injuries to position players.
"I'm very satisfied by that -- and the players must be, as well," Price said on Saturday. "I'm sure they are. We do a lot of work on it. These guys work at it -- not just in Spring Training. But if you go out early on the field, you'll see guys taking ground balls and working on their defense. ... So I think it's through having the athletes and the work and the investment they put into it. It tells you how much they appreciate the importance of good defense."
Brandon Phillips entered Sunday tied for fourth in the Majors in fielding percentage among second basemen (.995) and had committed just one error in 203 chances.
Dodgers: Kemp to see more time in left
Outfielder Matt Kemp was out of the lineup for the third straight game in Sunday's series finale with the Phillies. Kemp isn't hurt, but is coming off left ankle and left shoulder surgeries in the offseason. Mattingly said that Kemp is healthy, but needs time to get back to the player he was before the injuries. As a result, the regular center fielder could see more time in left.
"Here's where we're going with Matt," Mattingly said on Sunday morning after he put Andre Ethier in center for a third consecutive game. "We're going to start working Matt a little bit in left field. We're going to continue to work him in center. We're just feeling like we're giving him time to really get healthy. Not that's he's not healthy, but give him a chance to get all the way back."
Kemp, who missed only 11 games from 2008-11, missed 145 games from 2012-13 due to injuries. He is currently hitting .264 with 13 doubles, five home runs and 13 RBIs in 42 games this season.
Meanwhile, Ethier entered Sunday hitting .362 (21-for-58) in his last 19 games, before going 0-for-4.
• The Reds have lost five of their last seven games at Dodger Stadium dating back to July 2012.
• Kemp is 6-for-12 lifetime with two homers against Cueto, while Adrian Gonzalez is 3-for-8 with a double and a homer against the right-hander.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.