Johnny Cueto’s brilliance propelled the Cincinnati Reds past Roy Oswalt’s Houston Astros to retake first place in the NL Central.

Rumors have been swirling around the potential availability of Houston Astros 32-year old ace Roy Oswalt . He has been the lone bright spot on a team that entered Saturday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds with a 39-56 record. Since the season is considered lost, it was of little surprise to find that they are indeed trying to unload their franchise player of nine-plus years in an attempt to acquire solid prospects in return and rebuild.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, and St. Louis Cardinals have all expressed interest in acquiring the 6-foot, 143 game-winner who has a solid 3.22 career ERA. The Reds have not, and for good reason. They don’t need him. Their pitching staff is already terrific, featuring a young rotation that is anchored by 24-year old Johnny Cueto .

Cincinnati’s offense tagged Oswalt for six runs in the first three innings, and the stocky, powerful Dominican right-hander made sure the early advantage would hold by continuing his stellar 2010 campaign.

He began his career in 2008. His statistics weren’t eye-opening to start, as he lost 14 times and carried a 4.81 ERA, but he showed many glimpses of what kind of pitcher he could be in the future. He was un-hittable at times, impressing the Reds fan-base and frustrating the opposition’s with a lively fastball and a filthy array of offspeed pitches.

He made significant strides the following season, polishing his pitches and taking forty points off his ERA. This year, he has solidified himself as the team’s best pitcher, going 9-2 with a sub-3.30 ERA. He is one of the main reasons Cincinnati hasn’t put any of their eggs in Oswalt’s basket. He’s been pitching even better than the trade market’s hot commodity.

He certainly continued to against the Astros. The five-run cushion was more than enough against Houston’s underachieving bats. He threw a substantial amount of pitches, but the results were desirable. His speed discrepancy and unpredictability kept hitters off-balance. He breezed through the bottom halves of the first three innings, striking out four, then methodically baffled Houston over the next five innings with his particularly effective fastball-slider combination.

He predominately used those two pitches, as was especially the case in the sixth inning. They were all he threw, and the frame featured a strikeout, a lazy fly-ball, and a tapper back to the mound. When he was in a jam in the eighth, his final inning, he thwarted a two-on, no-out attempted rally by pumping in 94 mile-per-hour fastballs then pulling the string with 83 mile-per-hour sliders. The Astros knew one or the other was coming, they just didn’t know how to handle either.

Their offense has struggled this season, but with the names they have in their lineup they certainly aren’t chopped liver. Speedy Michael Bourn was kept off the basepaths and power hitters Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman , who are both very surprisingly batting in the .230′s, continued their woes. In all, Cueto tossed eight shutout innings , allowing just four hits and a walk while striking out six. He threw 122 pitches but was hitting the mid-90′s on the gun in his final inning. And he did this while battling the flu.

With the 7-0 victory , the Reds moved back into sole possession of first place in the National League Central. If he continues to pitch like he did against perennially a top-ten pitcher in the league, the team will have a great chance of holding that lead or at least remaining within striking distance through the heat of summer.

This may have been Oswalt’s final start with the only major league team he has played for, but, with a dominant Cueto, the dependability of fellow young flamethrowers Edinson Volquez , Mike Leake , and Travis Wood , as well as the steadiness of veterans Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang , it is clear where he won’t end up.

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