Kansas City Royals can exhale about Cueto, but still have rotation concerns

You’€™ll recall, sports fans, that Kansas City’s dreadlocked rent-a-pitcher, ex-Porkopolisite Johnny Cueto, struggled enough over a stretch of five starts that some people were starting to worry about him. I mean, really worry.

Well, Friday night the Royals made some adjustments and Cueto pitched seven strong innings –€“ notable largely because he didn’€™t give up any home runs this time –€“ and now everyone seems to be a lot less worried. The adjustments came after a big meeting, described here in detail by Andy McCullough:

 

Part of his trouble, Cueto explained to the team, was he tries to throw exactly toward the catcher’€™s glove. Perez often set the target high in the zone, intending to lower his mitt with the pitch. But the optics challenged Cueto, which may have led to him spinning a series of cutters and change-ups at the waist of opposing hitters in recent weeks.

Cueto offered a series of suggestions for Perez. Cueto needed the mitt positioned lower in the zone. He wanted Perez to back up off the plate. And Cueto wanted Perez to set up later than normal. When there were no men on base on Friday, Perez often crouched on one knee, lowering his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame to meet Cueto’€™s preferences.

 

If you€’re interested in this sort of thing — the adjustments that players make, the discussions they have, etc. –€“ then you should worry about all the loose talk about someday cutting off the main line of communication between players and the media. Then again, if you actually read the story you’€™ll see that all the quotes –€“ and presumably all or most of the information –€“ come from the manager and the catching coach (yes, the Royals have a catching coach, even though their catcher has won consecutive Gold Gloves).

Which is probably due to the fact that the manager and the catching coach both grew up speaking English, while the pitcher and the catcher did not.

I digress, though.

This is an interesting story, and I also think it supports my contention when I wrote about Cueto last week: These guys are highly skilled professionals, and highly skilled professionals will usually, if they’€™re healthy, figure out eventually what’€™s wrong, and fix it.

If you believe the diagnosis, you might wonder why it took so long. But if you read McCullough’€™s story, there’€™s an explanation for that, too.

Maybe it’€™s really that simple or maybe it’€™s not, but we have to believe that Cueto didn’€™t go, practically overnight, from being one of the best pitchers to one of the worst.

Which is a really good thing for the Royals. Because aside from Cueto, the club’s only two remotely impressive starting pitchers are Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura. You can get by in October with three good ones, plus a spot starter of your choosing. Last year, the Royals almost won a championship with Jeremy Guthrie’€™s three postseason starts and his preternaturally small strikeout rate.

But two-plus doesn’€™t really work unless you’€™re in the 1980s or you’€™ve got Madison Bumgarner on your staff. Volquez is one. Ventura remains a question mark, considering his recent inconsistency and his general lack of durability. And Cueto? Well, the jury’€™s probably still in deliberations. But between his history and his 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio since joining the Royals, you still have to figure that he’€™s their best bet to outpitch David Price or Dallas Keuchel or whomever else needs outpitching.