Johnny Cueto looked and felt more like himself Thursday.
Cueto, who blamed bad chicken wings for an upset stomach while pitching a season-low 3 2-3 innings in his last start at Wrigley Field, bounced back to throw three-hit ball for seven shutout innings. He took over the NL ERA lead, lowering his mark from 2.06 to 1.94.
"I didn't have any wings today," Cueto said. "I felt strong. I have been working hard to get better."
Cueto (8-5) struck out a season-high nine, including Carlos Gonzalez with the bases loaded to end the fifth inning, walked two and hit a batter. He missed the first month of the season with soreness in his upper right arm, qualified for the ERA lead with this outing.
"Johnny was dealing," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He had an easy inning going but he made a mistake to their pitcher, that put him in trouble. It cost him another 15-20 pitches or he could have gone farther."
In the past, those bumps upset Cueto more than the bad chicken wings. But the maturing right-hander is getting better at handling those situations.
"I was concentrating on not overthrowing to get myself out of danger," said Cueto, who has become Cincinnati's ace.
Said Baker: "He's still learning. He's pitching well while he's learning but he learned today that every batter counts, preventing the lineup from turning over is important."
Aroldis Chapman allowed the first two Rockies to reach in the eighth before getting Gonzalez to ground into a double play and striking out Eliezer Alfonzo. Francisco Cordero allowed Seth Smith's 12th home run of the season leading off the ninth, then earned his 22nd save in 27 chances.
Chacin (9-9) was almost as effective for Colorado, tying his season high with nine strikeouts while allowing six hits and two runs in eight innings. He fell to 1-5 over his last 10 starts despite finishing with a flourish, striking out the side in eighth.
The Reds took a 2-0 lead with a two-out, four-hit burst in the first against Chacin, who went into the game limiting opposing batters to a league-low .208 batting average.
Joey Votto lined a double off the left-field wall and scored on Jay Bruce's single up the middle. Bruce moved up on Ramon Hernandez's single and took third on Drew Stubbs' infield single to third baseman Chris Nelson, whose errant throw to first allowed a run to score.
"(Cueto's) very good," Chacin said. "When you face him, you know it's going to be a close game. What's more frustrating is getting the first two outs and then allowing four hits and two runs."
NOTES: Bruce went 6 for 14 in the series with two home runs and six RBIs. ... A pitcher needs one inning for each of his team's games to qualify for the ERA title. This was the Reds' 118th game, and Cueto reached that threshold on Jonathan Herrera's groundout in the fifth. It's the third time in Cueto's last three starts that he's qualified for the lead, only to later become a non-qualifier. ... Despite his eight-game hitting streak, Colorado SS Troy Tulowitzki did not start. "He came to me (Tuesday) and said his legs were starting to feel a little heavy," manager Jim Tracy said. "We wanted to be proactive. If not, you risk pushing the guy." Tulowitzki later pinch-hit. ... Alfonzo batted higher than sixth for the first time this season in nine starts. ... Reds RHP Bronson Arroyo will be looking for his first win in eight starts since beating the Orioles at Baltimore on June 25 when he starts Friday night at home against San Diego. ... Colorado RHP Aaron Cook is 1-4 in his career against the Cardinals going into his start Friday at St. Louis. ... Red 2B Brandon Phillips missed his second consecutive start with a left elbow still sore and swollen from being hit by a pitch on Tuesday. He refused to take a cortisone shot, he said before the game. "If they have to stick me to play, it's just more reason I shouldn't be playing," he said.