Cueto tough not to take for granted

CINCINNATI — The Reds beat Milwaukee 4-2 Tuesday night. Johnny Cueto completed eight innings, allowing just two runs on three hits without walking a batter. He struck out six, which is a conservative number for him but maybe he felt like letting his defense play a little behind him.

It’s hard not to take Johnny Cueto for granted. He’s that good. He’s that good all of the time. Cueto actually makes things hard on his teammates. Guys can only find so many words to describe Cueto.

"That’s what I tell you guys," said catcher Brayan Pena. "You have to go back and look for the same thing. All right Pena, it’s the same thing over and over again. He’s unbelievable."

Jay Bruce, whose locker is cater-corner from Pena’s, asked if he could catch Cueto successfully. Pena had little doubt the right fielder could. Not because of Bruce’s hidden abilities as a catcher, mind you.

Cueto is that good. Cueto doesn’t take himself for granted, an attitude that permeates to the rest of the club.

"He doesn’t allow you to," said Pena. "He’s always trying to make you focus and he’s always trying to give you the best out of him. He’s not one of those guys who believes nothing like that. He just goes out there and proves every single day that he belongs in the big leagues. He proves every day that he’s hungry. That keeps you going."

Cueto very well could’ve finished off the game for his 10th career complete game. He had thrown just 85 pitches and certainly wasn’t tired. Manager Bryan Price instead called on Aroldis Chapman to close out the game, which he did in typical one-two-three fashion that included two strikeouts.

Maybe that was Price’s way of telling Cueto the Reds don’t take him for granted. Last week in Milwaukee, Cueto needed 125 pitches to get through eight innings against the Brewers in a game the Reds won 2-1 with a run in the top of the ninth inning. It was the most pitches he had ever thrown in a game.

Price is cognizant of how much the Reds rely on Cueto and how much Cueto delivers for them each time he takes the mound. Price didn’t need to rely on Cueto this time, so he gave his ace a breather in the ninth.

Cueto gave the Reds a breather the first eight innings. He retired 12 of the first 13 Brewers he faced, allowing on Aramis Ramirez to reach base on a hit-by-pitch in the first four innings. Ramirez got Milwaukee’s first hit of the game, a home run leading off the fifth inning but by that time the Reds had a 4-0 lead. Cueto gave up another lead-off homer to Ryan Braun in the seventh inning, followed by a single to left field by Adam Lind but that was all he allowed.

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It was the first time this season the Reds had scored more than two runs while Cueto was on the mound. It only gave Cueto greater confidence.

"Today was real comfortable to work," said Cueto via interpreter Tomas Vera. "I just left two hanging pitches there and got two home runs out of that but I felt really comfortable tonight."

A comfortable Cueto means good things for the Reds.

"He’s smart. His baseball IQ on the mound is unbelievable. He knows what he’s doing," said left fielder Marlon Byrd, who playing behind Cueto for the first time in his career.

Byrd is one of the few hitters who has had success against Cueto. He’s got nine hits in 19 plate appearances against Cueto, including two home runs. He hit a home run off Cueto for Pittsburgh in the NL Wild Card game in 2013. Ramirez is another. The home run he hit off Cueto Tuesday was the sixth of his career among 18 hits he’s had off of Cueto.

They are among the few who can claim such success.

"He sets up hitters," said Byrd. "He sees swings. He throws to swings that he knows you can’t get to. Cutters in. Cutters away. Changeups. Quick pitch. A turn, pause. Breaking balls. He locates everything."

That’s Johnny Cueto. He’s that good. He’s that hard not to take for granted.