CINCINNATI — Johnny Cueto put the "great" in Great American Ball Park on opening day.
Cueto fired seven innings of three-hit ball Thursday as the Cincinnati Reds shut out the Miami Marlins 4-0.
A sellout crowd of 42,956 — a regular-season record for Great American — saw the Reds back Cueto with sterling defense, timely hitting and perfect relief.
Jay Bruce drove in a pair of runs with a sacrifice fly and a towering home run — an estimated 442 feet off the batter's eye in center field.
The other runs scored on doubles by Ryan Ludwick — his first hit as a Red — and pinch-hitter Chris Heisey.
Rookie Zack Cozart had two of Cincinnati's 10 hits.
Cueto, 26, threw 61 of his 95 pitches for strikes. Aroldis Chapman worked a perfect eighth inning and Sean Marshall did the same in the ninth, each notching a pair of strikeouts. Cueto fanned four and walked two.
"Cueto's matured big-time before our eyes, and he knows what he wants to do," Reds Manager Dusty Baker said. "He doesn't fight Johnny Cueto anymore. Because, before, his own worst enemy was probably himself. He's gotten past that point and matured to the pitcher that he is. And the sky's the limit to what he can do as long as he stays healthy."
Cueto agreed with Baker's view that he fought himself in the past. With Tomas Vera, Reds assistant athletic trainer, serving as interpreter, Cueto said he's not like that now.
"I just want to get an out, or I just want to make sure I throw strikes. ... I don't care or look to strike out the hitter," he said. "I look to get hitters out (and) throw less amount of pitches. I'll get more innings."
The Marlins, held to four hits Wednesday in a season-opening 4-1 loss to St. Louis, became Cincinnati's first opening-day shutout victim since the Atlanta Braves in 1980 (9-0).
Cueto got the only run he needed in the first inning.
Marlins left-hander Mark Buehrle, a key off-season acquisition, issued a leadoff walk to Brandon Phillips.
Cozart reached on a fielder's choice and took second on Joey Votto's single. Scott Rolen, in an 0-2 hole, was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Bruce's fly to deep center easily scored Cozart.
"My big goal today and, really, all year is to just slow down, take what they give me and not try to do too much," said Bruce, who turned 25 Tuesday. "From time to time in my career, my emotions have gotten the best of me. I think that is going to be a big key to my season."
Cueto didn't give up a hit until Emilio Bonifacio led off the fourth with a single. Cueto picked him off at first.
After rapping a fifth-inning single and spending considerable time on base, Cueto came out in the sixth and gave up a one-out single to Jose Reyes, then he walked Bonifacio. He escaped with a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play — fanning Hanley Ramirez and catching Reyes hung up between second and third base.
"I was trying to work outside-inside and things were not going how I wanted," Cueto said. "So I called the catcher (Ryan Hanigan) in and we had a little talk where we say we don't want to follow any signs, we're just going to throw. It worked for me."
Miami's final hit was a one-out double in the seventh by Gaby Sanchez. Cueto struck out Chris Coghlan and got Omar Infante on a fly ball.
"He had great command of his pitches, especially early," Baker said. "His pitch count stayed relatively low. He got in trouble a little bit in the sixth and seventh, and he got out of it with some big strikeouts and some big outs. What a way to start, for him and for us."
Sixth-inning doubles by Rolen and Ludwick made it 2-0.
Bruce led off the eighth with a homer. With two outs, Heisey doubled in Drew Stubbs, who had walked.
Third baseman Rolen committed the Reds' first error of the season when he couldn't pick up Bonifacio's hard bunt in the first inning. Rolen didn't take long to make amends, making a backhand snag of Sanchez's hard-hit ball in the second inning. On the foul line and from the grass behind the infield dirt, Rolen threw out Sanchez at first, aided by Votto's big stretch. ... Veteran outfielder Austin Kearns, a Lafayette High School graduate who went into spring training as a non-roster invitee, appeared as a pinch-hitter for the Marlins. He was retired on an eighth-inning groundout, as Rolen made a nifty pickup in the hole between third and short. ... Marlins catcher John Buck, one of the original Lexington Legends, went 0-for-3. ... The Reds got a hit from eight of nine spots in the batting order.
Cueto is Cincinnati's first opening-day starter who came up through the Reds system since Brett Tomko in 1999. ... Cozart is the first Reds rookie to start an opener at shortstop since Frank Duffy in 1971. ... The Reds have not been shut out on opening day since 1953, a streak of 59 years. That is second in Major League history to Philadelphia's streak of 62 openers (1911-72). ... After a day off Friday, the three-game series will continue Saturday at 7:10 p.m. Right-hander Mat Latos will make his regular-season debut as a Red, opposed by Ricky Nolasco. The series will conclude with a matchup of right-handers Sunday at 1:10 p.m. The Reds will send Bronson Arroyo against Carlos Zambrano.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com