Early-season distress for the Reds

If they were charmed a year ago, the Reds have run into quite a bit of harm early in the 2013 campaign.

On opening day, power-hitting left fielder Ryan Ludwick dislocated his shoulder with a foolish attempt at a head-first slide into third base. He’s on the disabled list, out for two to three months.

Now come reports that ace pitcher Johnny Cueto will be placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained lat muscle. The 27-year-old righthander left Saturday’s game with one out in the fifth inning, complaining of pain in his triceps region. He returned to Cincinnati on Sunday to be examined by team doctors. The Reds have not issued a statement on Cueto’s condition, but they did limit minor-league ace Tony Cingrani to just two innings on Sunday for the Louisville Bats.

Cueto’s predicament was compounded by Sunday’s 10-7 loss at Pittsburgh. The Reds squandered a 5-0 lead, a three-RBI effort by Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto’s first home run since June 24. Dusty Baker’s obvious bullpen mismanagement didn’t help.

Pittsburgh touched up starter Mat Latos in the seventh inning, ending up with four runs for the frame. Then Baker turned to setup man Jonathan Broxton in the eighth. One problem: Broxton had not pitched in a week. He warmed up three times in the Reds’ 3-1 loss Saturday but never made it in the game.

On Sunday, the Pirates took advantage of Broxton’s rust. Michael McKenry hit his second homer of the game, the second resulting in a 6-6 tie. Starling Marte then took Broxton deep to put Pittsburgh ahead, 8-6.

“That’s the roughest one in a long time,” Baker said afterward.

During a 1-5 road trip, Baker continually used J.J. Hoover and Logan Ondrusek, just called up from AA when Sean Marshall was placed on the DL with a shoulder problem, while allowing Broxton and Aroldis Chapman to languish in the pen. Chapman came into get the final out on Sunday, but surrendured an RBI hit first.

After a 5-2 start, which included two wins each over the Angels and Nationals, the Reds are 5-7. Chris Heisey has struggled as a replacement for Ludwick. And if the reports are accurate, the Reds must find a rotation replacement for Cueto. It has been a rough start for the defending NL Central champs.

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