CINCINNATI — With the continued success of the starting rotation — without Johnny Cueto — would the Cincinnati Reds disrupt things when (and if) he returns from the disabled list?
The question isn’t one that needs an immediate answer because Cueto isn’t even throwing as he permits his sore lat to slowly heal. As he said Sunday, “No throwing, lots of running.”
And when the soreness subsides it will take a lengthy period for Cueto to build his arm strength back into game-ready and it most likely would be at least September 1 before that happens — if then.
While a lot can happen in a month, what happens if the current five-man rotation of Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, Mat Latos, Tony Cingrani and Bronson Arroyo stay healthy and continue to pitch the way they have most of the season.
How about Johnny Cueto in the bullpen? That scenario was tossed out Sunday by pitching coach Bryan Price, unsolicited. And while he says it hasn’t been discussed, the fact that he brought it up means it certainly is on his mind.
“When Johnny comes back, how long it would take to build him up depends on how we might utilize him,” said Price. “Using him as a starter would take a lot longer. If we wanted to use him in the bullpen that would be a lot shorter throwing progression.”
Price emphasized that he hasn’t talked about it with manager Dusty Baker or general manager Walt Jocketty. While Cueto pitched a little out of the bullpen in the minors he hasn’t done it with the Reds. All 158 appearances have been as a starter.
“It is one of those things where we are going to get to a point where we have to set a schedule for his return and it would be different if he was going to pitch out of the bullpen or as a starter. Organizationally we haven’t discussed the bullpen option, but of course it depends on our needs.
“Hey, any rotation is going to be better with Johnny Cueto in it, but the other question is what do we feel is in his best interest in staying healthy for the duration of this year. Certainly if we are a playoff team having him as an option as a starter would be a real plus for us.”
Price smiled and dug deep into his vocabulary and said, “It is not a conundrum, but it is something we’ll have to discuss how we’ll want to prepare him to be able to get back in September at some point.”
Cueto has been shut down three times this year with the same lat injury. He has made only nine starts and is 4-2 with a 3.33 earned run average.
He still has soreness in the lat and Price said he won’t throw until the soreness is completely eradicated.
“It’s the type of thing that you can’t work your way through it by throwing,” said Price. “Until all the soreness and inflammation is gone we are not going to have them throw at all. Hopefully that’s imminent but we have to be completely pain-free before we take that step.”
Relief pitcher Sean Marshall is another disabled list resident who is not throwing, even though it looked as if he was ready to return just prior to the All-Star break. But he had a setback during a throwing session and is not throwing.
“Marshall’s issue is similar to Cueto’s,” said Price. “His shoulder issue was getting better and he was ready to go out on rehab. But he had a muscular strain in the upper arm, a llittle bit of inflammation. It is one of those things where you can’t work your way back throwing through it. He and Cueto are in the same boat in that until they get all that soreness and inflammation out we will not have them throw at all. Hopefully, that’s imminent.
On the bullpen front, relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton was scheduled to pitch Sunday for the Louisville Bats in Indianapolis after he threw a 15-pitch simulated game Saturday in Great American Ball Park.
“That’s our version of pitching in back-to-back games and then we’ll give him at least one day off (Monday) and then re-assess,” said Price. “Barring any setbacks we feel he’ll be ready to go for the Oakland series, maybe Tuesday, maybe Wednesday, is he comes through all this.”