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Aggressive Nationals lose to Reds 1-0

CINCINNATI – Bryce Harper got doubled up on a fly out. Later, he was retired in a rundown after going too far around second base. The Nationals’ aggressive play wound up costing them in a close game.

Johnny Cueto fanned nine in seven innings on Saturday, and Brayan Pena singled through a drawn-in infield for the only run, leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 1-0 victory that ended their seven-game losing streak.

The Nationals weren’t going to second-guess themselves for the daring that cost them on the bases.

“It’s part of our DNA,” manager Matt Williams said. “We’re going to be aggressive. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it bites you. You can’t change the way we play. It’s aggressive by nature.

“It’s the way we play, and we’re not going to change how we go about it.”

Two exceptional plays in the Reds’ outfield prevented early runs.

Center fielder Billy Hamilton ran down Adam LaRoche’s fly with two runners aboard in the first. Right fielder Jay Bruce got to Wilson Ramos’ fly to the warning track and doubled up Harper at first base in the second inning.

“Guys hit balls like that in this yard all the time and it usually hits off the wall or goes out of the yard,” Harper said. “So nothing I can do about it. I thought I definitely would have scored if it’s over his head. Bruce made a great play and came up firing.”

Harper got caught in a rundown between second and third base in the seventh inning after trying to take an extra base on Ramos’ infield single.

“Just trying to go to third,” Harper said. “I thought I had a bead on it and they got me.”

Cincinnati ended its longest losing streak in five years by getting several good defensive plays and another dominating performance by its All-Star starter. Cueto (11-6) gave up four hits and walked three.

Left-hander Aroldis Chapman pitched out of a two-on, two-out threat in the eighth and finished for his 22nd save in 24 chances. He extended his streak of at least one strikeout in his last 43 appearances, the longest by a reliever in the majors since 1900.

The Reds’ offense has been in a deep slump, leading to Cincinnati’s worst losing streak coming out of the All-Star break since 1991. They managed only four hits during a 4-1 loss on Friday night. They got four hits again on Saturday, but this time it was enough.

Pena’s single through the left side of a drawn-in infield in the fifth inning made the difference against left-hander Gio Gonzalez (6-6), who gave up four hits and fanned eight in seven innings.

He has been tough on the Reds throughout his career. He was 2-0 in his previous four starts against Cincinnati with a 1.00 ERA, allowing three earned runs and fanning 32 in 27 innings.

The Reds ended a slump that had dropped them back to .500 for the first time since June 24. Cueto had the most to do with it, holding down a team that hit him hard the last time around. He fanned the side in the third and sixth innings, leaving after throwing his 103rd pitch.

The right-hander had his roughest outing of the season on May 20 in Washington, where he gave up a season-high eight runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 9-4 loss.

Chris Heisey set up Cincinnati’s run in the fifth. He led off with a double – only the Reds’ second hit off Gonzalez – and stole third base with one out. Pena singled through the hole at shortstop.

Pena also threw out Ian Desmond as he tried to steal second base after a leadoff walk in the ninth.

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