By HAL McCOY FOXSportsOhio.com CINCINNATI — What Dusty Baker feared most materialized this weekend — premature talk of postseason play might distract the job at hand, no matter how menial it seemed.
And it couldn’t have seemed more menial with the Houston Astros coming to town, towing 95 losses with them. They hadn’t won a series on the road in 2 ½ years — not since early June of 2010 when they took two of three from the White Sox in Chicago.
So, nothing to worry about, right? Toss the gloves on the field, toss the bats into the batter’s box, and they’ll do all the work.
That’s not the way it worked out, though. The Astros, 40 ½ games behind the Reds in the National League Central and sporting a roster full of minimum-waged rookies, put it to the Reds, taking two of three.
The most surprising was Sunday’s game, a 5-1 victory, because they did it against the best the Reds have to offer, 17-game winner Johnny Cueto.
Cueto, though, lasted only four innings and gave up four runs and nine hits, including a three-run home run to Matt Dominguez, the same guy whose three-run home run in the ninth inning Friday off closer Aroldis Chapman beat the Reds, 5-4.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” said Baker. “We shouldn’t be thinking or talking about the playoffs and the postseason until it is for sure we are going. And that hasn’t happened yet.
“I don’t like to hear that other kind of talk, especially when a team like Houston comes to town,” he added. “They have nothing to lose, they’re loose, they’re young, they hit fastballs. When you guys come up they can hit fastballs and by-and-large that’s what they hit this weekend.”
Cueto, once the most noteworthy National League Cy Young candidate, has thrown two straight clinkers and fallen behind 18-game winners R.A. Dickey (Mets) and Gio Gonzalez (Nationals).
“Cueto seems OK physically and we even talked to him about that before this start,” said Baker. “He was throwing the ball well but it was a matter of getting the ball up without very good location. Whenever a guy gets hit hard who is not used to getting hit hard everybody wants to know if something is wrong. Sometimes you just have a couple of bad outings. That’s what it looks like to me.”
Could their be mental distractions — the Cy Young, 20 wins, lowest earned run average? A Reds pitcher has never won the Cy Young and no Reds pitcher has won 20 games since Danny Jackson in 1988.
“Hopefully he is not worried about other things, other things than pitching and winning,” said Baker. “He’s never been to winning 20 games, never been close to this ERA (2.48 until his last two starts pushed it to 2.71). There are a lot of things running through his head. We have to have a little sit down conference with him to get him back to just being Johnny Cueto, Pitcher.”
On the positive side, after Cueto left Baker brought in lefthander Tony Cingrani for his major-league debut after a call-up earlier this week from Class AA Pensacola.
The 23-year-old third-roun pick in 2011 out of Rice University was one pitch shy of spectacularly perfect. In three innings, he struck out five and walked none, but gave up one hit, a home run to Tyler Greene.
“He was the shining light, an excellent outing,” said Baker. “It was good to get him in there and get multiple innings. He was nervous, but after a couple of pitches he was very good.”
Cingrani offered up mostly fastballs during his 50-pitch debut, 34 strikes.
“He hides the ball well, has good velocity, had a very good, live, moving fastball, threw some very good changeups,” Baker added. “For his first outing, he looked good, very good.”
And that isn’t something, on this day, he could say about Cueto and about his offense (five hits, two in the ninth inning) and he indicated it might be time for some refocusing on the goals.