CINCINNATI -- Matt Belisle doesn't want to admit that he might pitch better when he doesn't know he's starting.
Pitching in place of an ailing Aaron Harang against Washington, Belisle bailed out a thin Cincinnati bullpen with six solid innings and Ryan Freel sparked the Reds offense with four hits as they completed a three-game sweep of the Nationals with a 12-3 win Wednesday.
Felipe Lopez hit a two-run homer and Austin Kearns drove in three runs as the Reds matched their season high for runs and completed their first sweep since opening the season with three consecutive wins against the New York Mets. The Reds haven't lost since cutting closer Danny Graves on Monday.
"Just playing better baseball is the best way to put it, I guess," manager Dave Miley said. "It all starts with that guy out there at the beginning of the game. Guys are starting to swing the bat better, but it starts with the starting pitching we're getting."
Former-Red Jose Guillen homered twice for Washington, which has lost five of its last six games. The Nationals were swept in a series of three or more games for the first time this year.
"We have to ride this thing out," Washington manager Frank Robinson said. "We're not pointing fingers. We're getting outhit, outpitched and outmanaged."
Belisle (2-4) got his first start of the season on April 13 at St. Louis, when he replaced injured Ramon Ortiz. He'd been told the night before that Ortiz might be sidelined with a groin injury, and he responded by allowing one run and four hits in Cincinnati's 6-5 win.
The rookie right-hander, the only nonstarter to not pitch in Tuesday's 14-inning win, had no warning that he would be making his first start since April 23. Harang was sidelined by flu-like symptoms, and Belisle didn't know he was starting until he arrived at the ballpark about 1½ hours before the game.
He responded by limiting the Nationals to two runs and five hits, and matching his personal best with six strikeouts in a career-high six innings.
"I guess that's my track record, but knowing or not knowing, it should be the same," Belisle said. "The big thing is to establish consistency. I knew the bullpen was depleted, and I wanted to give them as much as I could, so I wanted to be aggressive."
Freel went 4-for-6, doubling twice, singling and matching his career high for hits. Ken Griffey Jr. batted third for the first time this season and went 3-for-3 with two walks, raising his average to .253. He was 0-for-16 before a fifth-inning single.
"I made a little adjustment today," Freel said. "I've been working with (hitting coach) Chris Chambliss because I was getting under the ball, so I changed the path of my swing."
Claudio Vargas (0-3) lasted just 1 2/3 innings, giving up three runs -- two earned -- three hits and three walks. He has lasted a total 6 2/3 innings in his last three starts, and his ERA is up to 9.24.
Washington allowed its most runs this year.
Freel singled leading off the bottom of the first and Lopez followed with his sixth homer. Freel then made it 3-0 in the third when he hit a two-out double, stole third and scored when catcher Gary Bennett's throw hit him and bounced into foul territory for an error.
Washington got a run in the fourth when Guillen doubled and scored on Brendan Harris' infield single, but Cincinnati made it 6-1 in the fifth on Kearns' two-run double and Javier Valentin's sacrifice fly.
Guillen, who has 10 homers this year, homered off Belisle in the sixth and Ricky Stone in the eighth for his sixth multihomer game and second this season.
Freel homered off Hector Carrasco in the sixth. Kearns hit an RBI single in a five-run eighth off Zach Day that included a two-run double by Jacob Cruz, an RBI double by pinch-hitter Luis Lopez and a single that produced William Bergolla's first career RBI.
- The Reds won 12-4 at Philadelphia on May 14.
- Washington's previous high for runs allowed this year was in an 11-2 loss at Atlanta on April 11.
- Guillen homered twice at Atlanta on April 13.
- Sean Casey, who had been hitting third for Cincinnati, is day to day with a bruised left rotator cuff he sustained while trying to make a diving stop of Guillen's sharp grounder Tuesday.
- Cruz's start was his first of the season after 27 appearances as a pinch hitter. He became the last NL non-pitcher who was on an opening-day roster to play a defensive position.