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CIN@HOU: Cueto goes five scoreless in return from DL

For weeks now, the Reds have been fighting off the Nationals to stay locked into a National League Wild Card spot. In doing so -- and along the way taking two of three from the Pirates this weekend -- they've fought their way back into the NL Central race, as well.

It'll be the Mets trying to play spoiler against the surging Reds on Monday, in the first of a three-game set at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The Reds are coming off a 6-3 road trip that included series wins at Houston (a sweep) and Pittsburgh.

The Mets, who will send right-hander Aaron Harang to the mound for the opener, have won seven of their last 10. They're coming off their first three-game series sweep of the Phillies since May 7-9 of last year.

"The Mets are dangerous," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We don't know them. I'm looking at this roster and I don't know half of these guys, probably more than half. They just got big Harang in there. They just got David Wright back. He hit a home run his first at-bat. That's a dangerous club.

"We haven't seen them since [May]. It's a long time."

With their win over the Pirates on Sunday and the Nationals' loss to the Marlins in the first game of a doubleheader, Cincinnati trimmed its magic number for clinching a playoff spot to two. The Reds also moved to two games behind the first-place Cardinals -- who lost to the Brewers later Sunday night -- in the NL Central, tied with Pittsburgh.

Harang, 5-12 this year with a 5.69 ERA, is still looking for his first win with the Mets. He's gone 0-1 in his first two starts and lasted just five frames in his latest start. He gave up four runs (three earned) against the Giants.

Reds: Cueto still building
Reds starter Johnny Cueto threw just 82 pitches in his last start, his first since June 28, but his five scoreless innings kept him in the 91-94 mph range. The Reds hope to build his endurance a bit more on Monday in advance of a potential postseason berth.

"It depends on how he's pitching," Baker said when asked if he'd like to see Cueto throw more pitches Monday. "If he doesn't have any stressful innings. We're trying to win the game first and get Johnny's endurance up. If we can do both, that's primo."

• Center fielder Shin-Soo Choo was out of the Reds' lineup again on Sunday because of a sore left thumb, but says his condition is improving after jamming it on Friday.

He had X-rays taken on Saturday, which came back negative -- it's the same thumb that needed surgery in 2011 -- and Billy Hamilton played center and led off on Sunday. Choo plans to be back in the lineup on Monday against the Mets.

"The doctor said the bone was OK," Choo said Sunday. "I saw it, and after that, my mind was better. I think I healed quicker. Every hour, I feel better. I keep moving it."

Mets: Wright makes splash in return
It's been a powerful return from the disabled list for Wright, who has hit homers in each of his first two games back from the disabled list, and now has a homer in three consecutive games dating back to Aug. 2.

Wright got a planned day off on Sunday against the Phillies.

He also homered in three straight games from May 1-5 of this year, and has gone yard four games in a row just once -- June 7-10, 2007. Wright's 222 career home runs trail only Darryl Strawberry (252) for most on the Mets' all-time list.

The third baseman has hit in eight consecutive games, going 14-for-34 with three home runs and seven RBIs in that stretch.

"He's an unbelievable player," said pitcher Dillon Gee, who started and won Saturday thanks in part to Wright's homer. "As long as he can stay healthy, we're in very good shape."

Worth noting
• The Mets are 39-39 on the road this year.

• Reds outfielder Chris Heisey's first-inning single on Sunday snapped a career-high 0-for-20 hitless streak.

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