ATLANTA — Tim Hudson is making it easy to forget he missed most of the first month of the season recovering from back surgery.
The Braves jumped on Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto early Tuesday night and Hudson pitched seven strong innings to beat the Reds 6-2.
Hudson (2-1) has allowed two runs or less in three of four starts since returning from surgery to repair a herniated disc.
“I’m feeling better each time out,” Hudson said. “Every week that passes by I feel like I’m getting a little healthier. I’m really not concerned with it. I feel like I’m as healthy now as I have been in a really long time.”
Hudson threw six scoreless innings before giving up two runs in the seventh. He allowed nine hits and two runs in seven innings.
Brian McCann homered in the second inning and the Braves scored four runs in the third and led 6-0 after four innings.
“We got a nice lead early,” the 36-year-old Hudson said. “It makes my job a lot easier. I can go out there and be a lot more aggressive in the zone. I can challenge guys a little more.”
Cueto (4-1) led the major leagues with his 1.12 ERA before giving up six runs, five earned, on eight hits in four innings. He had allowed only one earned run over 23 innings in his last three starts.
Cueto said the loss is a painful reminder that dominant pitching is not automatic.
“It’s part of the game. I’m not a robot!” a smiling Cueto said through interpreter Tomas Vera, the Reds’ assistant athletic trainer.
“It’s been a while,” Cueto said of his first rough start of the season. “I don’t think anything was wrong. I was feeling really well. All my pitches we good. It’s just part of the game. It’s the way it goes.”
The Braves sent 11 batters to the plate while scoring four runs off Cueto in the third. Prado and Chipper Jones had run-scoring singles, Jason Heyward doubled in a run and Dan Uggla added a sacrifice fly in the long inning.
“They hit him pretty good tonight,” said Reds manager Dusty Baker of Cueto. “That was just not one of Johnny’s better outings.
“Just sometimes you get hit, you know what I mean? Especially against a hot-hitting team like the Braves. You’re not going to keep them down forever.”
The first-place Braves moved one-half game ahead of the Nationals in the NL East.
Michael Bourn had three hits and scored two runs and Martin Prado also had three hits for the Braves, who had 12 hits.
“We’re a good offense,” said McCann, who had two hits. “Everybody battles every at-bat. Tonight was no different.”
Kris Medlen gave up two hits in the eighth before ending the inning on pinch-hitter Ryan Ludwick’s flyball to left field. Craig Kimbrel gave up two-out walks to Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips in the ninth before closing out the win on Jay Bruce’s groundout.
Cueto’s ERA rose to 1.89, leaving Atlanta’s Brandon Beachy (1.60) with the majors’ best mark.
McCann hit his sixth homer, his first since May 2, in the second inning.
The Reds committed two errors to help the Braves score an unearned run in the fourth. Bourn singled and moved to second on Cueto’s wild pickoff attempt. A fielding error by Chris Heisey in left field on Prado’s single allowed Bourn to score for a 6-0 lead.
Ryan Hanigan’s double drove in Todd Frazier for the Reds’ first run in the seventh. Drew Stubbs’ single drove in Hanigan.
Notes: 1B Eric Hinske started for Freddie Freeman, who was held out with a scratch on his right eye. Freeman hopes to return on Wednesday. … The Reds begin an unusual stretch of five games in New York on Wednesday when they open a two-game series against the Mets with RHP Mike Leake (0-5) looking for his first win. The stay in New York continues with a three-game weekend series against the Yankees. … LHP Mike Minor (2-2) and the Braves open a two-game home series against Miami on Wednesday night.