CINCINNATI (AP) - Stephen Strasburg was ready for the challenge of facing Johnny Cueto. He wasn't expecting to finish second, though.
Cueto outlasted Strasburg in a highly anticipated matchup of young aces and Jay Bruce drove in three runs as the Cincinnati Reds wrapped up an impressive opening week homestand with a 6-3 win over the Washington Nationals on Sunday.
"I think I learned a lot out there," Strasburg said. "You want to be in that situation and go deep in the ballgame."
Cueto needed 108 pitches to get through six innings, allowing seven hits and three runs. He walked three and struck out six. Aroldis Chapman allowed one hit and had two strikeouts in the ninth for his second save.
Strasburg (1-1) allowed nine hits and six runs with four walks and five strikeouts in 5 1-3 innings. He threw 114 pitches, 73 for strikes. Strasburg allowed nine hits one other time, on June 23, 2010, his rookie season, the Kansas City Royals had nine hits off him but only one run. The Reds parlayed their nine hits into six runs.
In the first inning alone the Reds had more hits than Strasburg allowed in seven innings to the Miami Marlins on opening day.
Xavier Paul reached first base on an infield single. Joey Votto walked. Brandon Phillips loaded the bases with an infield hit. Jay Bruce double to score two runs. Phillips scored on Todd Frazier's groundout.
"Something was going on when I was in the stretch. They seemed to take better swings," Strasburg said. "I have to look at the video and see what I'm doing out there. Some days you're going to give up a lot of singles. They came up with some clutch hits. You have to tip your cap and keep on going."
Kurt Suzuki answered the Reds with a three-run home run off Cueto in the second inning to get the Nationals and Strasburg back in the game. Suzuki also hit two doubles in his four trips to the plate.
"Our catchers are hitting the heck out of the ball," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. Catcher Wilson Ramos hit two home runs in Washington's extra inning win over the Reds Saturday.
Both pitchers settled in. The score was 3-all when Strasburg, who had thrown 92 pitches came to bat with Danny Espinosa on second base and two outs.
"He (Strasburg) is our horse," Johnson said. "Especially with the extra inning game yesterday, we used a lot of guys. We needed six out of him. He was throwing free and easy, plus he's a pretty good hitter. Stras threw the ball all right but didn't hit his spots when he needed to."
Derrick Robinson singled to lead off the decisive sixth against Strasburg. Shin-Soo Choo singled Robinson to third on a hit-and-run play.
The Nationals played the infield halfway.
Paul hit a slow grounder to Espinosa at second base. He elected to come home rather than try to turn a double play. Robinson beat the throw easily.
"It was the decision I made," Espinosa said. "The way I felt was - a slow roller, if we're going to play halfway right there was to try to cut that run. Robinson is too fast for that. If it's a hard hit groundball, I'm going to turn two. If Robinson takes off, I throw home. It was my misunderstanding of why we were playing halfway."
The play set up two Reds' insurance runs.
"You shorten up a little bit because Paul can run pretty good," Johnson said. "If it's hit hard you turn two and just give them one run. It cost us."
Phillips drove in the final two runs with a single.
Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo, Paul and Phillips each had two hits to back Cueto (1-0) and help the Reds win the rubber match of their three-game series with Washington.
Washington managed just three doubles after the second inning.
Johnson expects Adam LaRoche to be available Tuesday when Washington hosts the Chicago White Sox.
NOTES: The Reds begin their first road trip of the season Monday with three games in St. Louis, where they've won just three and split two of their last 27 series, starting in 2003. ... Washington returns home after a brief three-game road trip to open a six-game homestand, starting Monday with the first of three interleague games against the White Sox. ... Zimmerman's third-inning error was the 12th committed by a Reds opponents in the first six games of the season. The Reds have been charged with just two.