ATLANTA -- With Johnny Cueto on the mound, it looked like the Reds had a good chance to pull off their first series sweep of the season Tuesday night, albeit a two-game set.
Still, the Braves came into the series off a weekend sweep in St. Louis and in first place in the National League East.
But Cueto, who had allowed just one run over 23 innings in his previous three starts, wasn't his normal self, and Atlanta took advantage.
"I'm not a robot," the right-hander said through a translator.
The Braves batted around in a four-run third inning, and the previously unbeaten Cueto was gone after one more frame as the Braves rolled to a 6-2 victory that dropped the Reds to 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis in the NL Central.
Cueto, who came into the game at Turner Field leading the NL with a 1.12 ERA, allowed one more run in the Braves' big inning than he had in any game this season, and the six total runs -- five earned -- were just one short of his yield in seven previous starts.
"It happens," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "The best of them get hit sometimes."
The Braves had eight hits, including a second-inning homer by Brian McCann, in four innings off Cueto (4-1) as they staked Tim Hudson to a big early lead.
Blanked through six innings by Hudson (2-1), the Reds scored twice in the seventh and ended up being outhit just 12-11 as relievers threw four scoreless innings to drop the bullpen ERA to 2.35.
Ryan Hanigan had an RBI double and Drew Stubbs a run-scoring single, but the Reds left 12 runners on base to the Braves' seven.
"They had that big inning where they strung hits together, and we did just the opposite," Chris Heisey said.
The left fielder had his second straight three-hit game for the Reds, lifting his average from .200 to .260 in two days. But that and the work of relievers Alfredo Simon, J.J. Hoover and Jose Arredondo couldn't compensate for Cueto's uncharacteristic outing.
"I don't think anything was wrong," Cueto said. "It's just part of the game."
After retiring the first four Braves hitters, Cueto left a 2-1 changeup too high and in, and McCann drove his sixth homer of the season into the right-field seats.
"He came out throwing a lot more offspeed than normal early in the game, and we were laying off it and putting good swings on the ones he made mistakes on," McCann said.
It was just the third home run that Cueto had allowed and the first since April 17 at St. Louis, where Carlos Beltran took him deep in the first inning of his third start of the year.
The worst was yet to come, though. The Braves sent 10 men to the plate in the third inning and had five hits, including a run-scoring double by Jason Heyward. Martin Prado and Chipper Jones had RBI singles and Dan Uggla a sacrifice fly. Cueto, who had two strikeouts in the game, also walked two in the inning, one intentionally.
"They were hitting more the breaking pitches," Cueto said. "I was trying to throw in the middle, but they were going away. I didn't have control of those pitches."
Baker thought it was more the Braves' good hitting than Cueto's poor pitching in the big inning.
"They had a pretty good game plan, and the Braves can hit," the manager said.
"It's tough to get through all of us," said Michael Bourn, who along with Prado had three hits. "We just try to make it hard on the pitcher. We know he's thinking up there. He has a lot on his mind if we can grind him, if we can grind him down.
"We had a collective effort tonight. We worked against their ace. We were able to work him. Every inning we grinded him out, so we were able get him out early."
An unearned run in the fourth inning padded the Braves' lead, and Baker pinch-hit for Cueto in the fifth after he had thrown 82 pitches, 50 of them strikes.
How tough was it for Cueto? He also had an error on a wild pickoff throw in the sloppy fourth inning, when Heisey also had a misplay.
Johnny Cueto is human after all.
Guy Curtright is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.