AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Denard Span will take the five hits, of course, especially with three of them coming off Johnny Cueto.
He’ll take greater satisfaction in the way he was able to create havoc the way a leadoff hitter should, using his speed to get the Cincinnati Reds to commit a pair of errors in the Washington Nationals’ 9-4 win Tuesday night.
“I got more gratification just disrupting them and getting them to throw the ball away,” Span said. “For me that’s how I have to take over a game.”
And take over, he did. He finished 5 for 5 with two runs, two doubles, two RBIs and a stolen base as he and the Nationals accomplished a first for 2014: They made Cueto (4-3) look mortal.
The Reds’ ace allowed more than two runs, more than five hits and failed to pitch at least seven innings — all for the first time this season.
His final line: 5 1-3 innings, six hits, eight runs (six earned), six strikeouts. He also hit two batters in the same inning — the seven-run sixth when the Nationals blew the game open.
“They played really well. And you know what? I’m human. I’m human,” Cueto said through an interpreter. “I just got to keep my head up and keep working. That’s all I got to do.”
It was Cueto’s shortest start since Sept. 16, 2013, and his most runs allowed since Sept. 22, 2010. His ERA rose from 1.25 to 1.86. He wasn’t helped by a Reds defense that committed four errors — twice as many as in any previous game this season.
“He wasn’t just the groundball machine, strikeout machine that he’s been to this point,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “It’s just the law of averages caught up with us today.”
Doug Fister (1-1), making his home Nationals debut, allowed two runs and six hits over seven innings with good movement on his fastball. He had a streak of 12 retired batters in a row, and he worked out of a jam in the sixth with the help of a diving stop by third baseman Anthony Rendon and a tiptoe stretch by first baseman Tyler Moore that turned Rendon’s throw into the third out.
Above all, Span was the unstoppable agitator, and it paid off in the Reds’ calamitous third and sixth innings.
Fister led off the third by reaching on an error when first baseman Todd Frazier couldn’t backhand a grounder. Span then tried to bunt his way on and did even better, laying one down that prompted a wide throw from third baseman Ramon Santiago. Fister scored all the way from first, and Span ended up on third and scored on Rendon’s sacrifice fly to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead.
In the sixth, Span led off with a single, then stole second and went to third when catcher Brayan Pena’s throw went into center field. Span scored on Jayson Werth’s RBI single and eventually came around to bat again in the inning, bringing home two more runs with a double off lefty reliever Sean Marshall.
“That’s a good sign. I hit a lefty like that, a breaking-ball lefty,” Span said. “Stay back and drive the ball like that. I haven’t done that in a while.”
The evening’s work raised Span’s batting average from.239 to .263.
Before the game, manager Matt Williams said he was sticking with Span when asked about a possible change in the leadoff spot. The big night might be the turning point that justifies Williams’ patience.
“Looking back at last year, he started a really good streak in the second half,” Williams said, “so certainly it can get him going.”
NOTES: Span’s five hits tied a career high. … The Reds have committed six errors thus far in two-game series — they had only 13 all season before arriving in D.C. … Cincinnati 1B Joey Votto missed his fifth straight game with a strained left quadriceps. Price said he hopes Votto will return when the Reds open a homestand Friday. “We just remain optimistic that Joey’s going to be ready to play when we get back.” … Cincinnati RHP Mat Latos (left knee, right elbow) threw the equivalent of two innings in a simulated game and could be slotted for a minor league rehab start Sunday. … Reds OF Jay Bruce (left knee) is eligible to return from the disabled list Wednesday. … Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman (right thumb fracture) saw an occupational therapist to get a splint and that will allow him to start throwing the ball. There’s still no timetable for his return. … Reds’ RHP Alfredo Simon faces RHP Tanner Roark in Wednesday’s series finale.
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