GOODYEAR, Ariz. — No one has told Johnny Cueto that he is going to the be the Reds starting pitcher on Opening Day but Cueto made the decision of Bryan Price a whole lot easier Tuesday.
Forget Cueto’s final line of six runs allowed on seven hits over 5+ innings while pitching for the Reds’ Single-A Bakersfield affiliate against Cleveland’s Carolina Mudcats. The fact that Cueto threw without any irritation in his right scapula area, an irritation that gave Price and pitching coach Jeff Pico pause and reason to scratch Cueto from his last start, was all anyone needed to hear.
"Everything feels good," said Cueto. "I’m ready to go for the season."
Cueto is coming off a season in which he started just 11 games because of troubles with his lat muscles, troubles that equated to three different trips to the disabled list. It was capped off with a disastrous start against Pittsburgh in the National League Wild Card game. This new season can’t begin soon enough for Cueto.
Price has said he wanted to wait until mid-week to announce his decision on who will start Opening Day. He’s put the decision on hold because of the skipped start by Cueto and a groin strain that forced Homer Bailey to miss one start and push back another by a couple of days. Mat Latos has also been working his way back from a knee surgery in February. Price hasn’t wanted to make a decision that he might have to retract.
Bailey and Latos both made starts on the minor league level Monday and came through them feeling well. Cueto had a rough first inning in his start Tuesday, giving up four runs on five hits, but then he found his groove and retired 13 of 14 batters through the end of the fifth inning. He struck out 11 batters and walked just one. Nine of his strikeouts came after the first inning.
Cueto threw 89 pitches, 59 of them for strikes. He went back to the mound for two final batters in the sixth inning because pitching coach Jeff Pico wanted him to go through the process of sitting down and then warming back up six times. He gave up singles to the two batters he faced in the sixth, on an infield single, and his day was complete.
"The main thing is he felt great. He felt healthy, he felt strong. That was No. 1 on my list," said Pico. "(The first inning) was a little different for him. He told me that ‘man, they’re swinging at everything I throw up there, and hitting it.’ But the main thing is he got his work in, he felt strong, there was no stiffness going on. When we went out to get him he was waving us off, saying he wanted another hitter. I couldn’t let him go any more. It was a good day’s work for him."
Cueto will not make another start this camp. Bailey is scheduled to pitch on Saturday in an exhibition at Triple-A Louisville. Tony Cingrani and Mike Leake are also scheduled to make one more start this week, so Cueto is the obvious choice to start Monday against St. Louis.
It’s just that no one is so officially.
Price and Pico both said that Cueto could have pitched that last start with the irritation in his scapula and that the move was strictly precautionary. It is physically unrelated to his issues from last season but the memory of Cueto’s health struggles was a part of the added precaution. Cueto said he was fine with the decision and that the extra time did help him.
Now, he’s and everyone else will wait for Price to make an official announcement on the Opening Day starter.
"I don’t know what’s going," said Cueto, "but I’m going to be ready."