CINCINNATI — It is ‘Go Johnny, Go’ once again for Johnny Cueto — for the second time this season he comes off the disabled list and will rejoin the Cincinnati Reds rotation Sunday.
Cueto faces the Milwaukee Brewers on Father’s Day, only his sixth start this season due to a persistent lat problem that twice pushed him off the pitching mound.
And as it seems to always happen with the Reds this year, one comes and one goes.
While Cueto returns, relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton goes, placed on the disabled list Saturday with an elbow strain, another blow to what has become a train wreck of a bullpen.
The Reds recalled Pedro Villareal to aid in the bullpen, but there will be further help. Reds manager Dusty Baker indicated that when Cueto is activated for his start, Tony Cingrani will not be returned to Triple-A Louisville. He’ll remain to man a seat in the bullpen, giving the Reds much-need left-handed support.
Cingrani began the year at Louisville but has been called up twice to take Cueto’s spot in the rotation. Amazingly, Cingrani has made more starts (seven) as Cueto’s stand-in than Cueto himself (six starts) has this season and posted a 3-0 record with a 3.15 earned run average.
Broxton pitched only once in the last week and that was an emergency call in the 14th inning of a game Thursday in Chicago and he was tagged with the loss.
Broxton reported soreness in his elbow and Baker had him marked as a “no” on his list of available pitchers against the Cubs on Thursday, but Broxton was the last man standing, other than closer Aroldis Chapman, who Baker was saving in case the Reds took the lead.
The team’s medical staff assured Baker that it was unlikely any damage would be done to Broxton’s elbow if he pitched Thursday, so Baker took the gamble and lost the game.
“Actually, this turned out better than we thought,” said Baker. “Our worst fears were that there might be structural damage in Broxton’s arm or ligament damage. There wasn’t, so that’s a big plus. It’s a strain with inflammation in the joint.
“We’ll give it time to clear up and he could be throwing again in two or three days, but we couldn’t afford to risk being short in the bullpen. It is not too bad of a situation, he could be ready on our next road trip, probably in Texas (June 28-30).”
Juggling roles and personnel in the bullpen is something Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price have endured most of the season.
“We have to do the best we can,” said Baker. “We’ve been in this situation from the beginning, all year, and we are a very resilient club.”
Left-hander Sean Marshall, also out for the second time this year, is close to rejoining the bullpen and Baker said, “I haven’t heard word yet from the doctor, but Sean has a good attitude and is in good spirits about returning soon. But you can’t always trust the players. They always say, ‘Ah, I feel great.’
“We just hope to get Broxton straight, get Marshall straight, get everybody straight and finish strong,” Baker added. “One of these days, some day, we’ll have everybody.”
Having Cueto return (3-0, 2.17) might be the biggest boost of all.
“Hey, man, any time you get your ace back, no matter who else you had in the meantime, it is hard to be an ace,” said Baker. “It took a while to build this ace (Cueto). He is very good now.”
The way Cingrani stepped in was most fortunate. The Cueto-Cingrani tandem has started 13 games and gone 6-0. Combined, they have pitched 77 1/3 innings, giving up 23 earned runs — a 2.68 earned run average.
And Cingrani gets to stay and work his magic out of the bullpen.