Chemistry between Cueto, Pena makes for effective pairing

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) reacts with catcher Brayan Pena (29) after retiring the side against the Atlanta Braves during the eighth inning. Cueto got a no-decision as the Braves defeated the Reds 1-0 in ten innings.

Dale Zanine/Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI — Johnny Cueto is attuned to the problems he faces as The Main Guy, the horse of the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff.

Because he is No. 1, he realizes he is, more often than not, going to face the other team’s No. 1 pitcher. And that means low-scoring games with his team struggling to scrape together hits as much as the other team tries to extract hits from Cueto.

Despite a miniscule 1.15 earned run average over six starts, Cueto is only 2-and-2. In his last three starts, he gave up only one run and has not given up more than two runs in any of his six starts.

His catcher, Cuban-born Brayan Pena, says Cueto fully understands his situation and remains level-headed throughout the ordeal.

"He understands who he is facing," said Pena. "He understands that he is facing the very best pitchers, the Adam Wainwrights (St. Louis), the Francisco Lirianos (Pittsburgh), the Julio Teherans (Atlanta)."

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He lost, 1-0, on Opening Day to Wainwright when he gave up a home run to Yadier Molina. He beat Liriano, 4-1, losing his shutout in the ninth inning on a Andrew McCutchen home run. He pitched eight shutout innings against Teheran, but Atlanta scored a run in the 10th inning off J.J. Hoover and Manny Parra for a 1-0 victory.

Pena, though, says the 28-year-old Cueto takes the right approach to every game he starts. And he tells that to Pena before the game.

"All he ever talks to me about is that he wants to keep his team in the game, keep the other team from scoring, because that is all he can control," said Pena. "He knows he is facing very tough pitchers and he tells me, ‘Pena, we need to keep our team in the ballgame. That’s his mentality and I don’t have to tell him that is something he can control, keeping the other team from scoring.

"He is very focused about that and that’s the best thing he can do," Pena added. "Just give us a chance to win and so far, although it doesn’t show on his won-lost record, he has been doing great, doing just what he needs to do."

Pena and Cueto work well together, which is why manager Bryan Price had Pena behind the plate when Cueto pitched, even before Devin Mesoraco went on the disabled list. And it is nothing against Mesoraco. Cueto and Pena are the right mix, the right chemistry.

Pena doesn’t call all the pitches and Cueto doesn’t call all the pitches. "It’s back and forth. It’s all about communications and our communication level is very high. I’m happy the skipper gave me the opportunity to work with him. As his catcher, I just sit down there and enjoy the ride.

"He is impressive," Pena said. "And the main reason is that he is healthy. When he is healthy, great things happen. He is maturing a lot now and has become one of the best pitchers in baseball. He is using all his pitches, too, and that gives him a lot of leverage. And he prepares himself before the game and follows his game plan during the game."

Mesoraco is out for at least two weeks with a sprained left hamstring, his second trip to the disabled list this year, taking his .468 batting average with three home runs, six doubles and 13 RBI in only 47 at-bats.

Pena, a switch-hitter, is hitting .289 and while he is happy to be playing, he realizes the loss of the ingot-hot Mesoraco is a loss to the team.

"He is our guy, our No. 1 guy," Pena said of Mesoraco. "As a backup, I just prepare myself and try to do my best for the team, whatever it takes. Hopefully he’ll be back soon. It was sad to see him go down because of the year he is having. But I realize now my team needs me and I have to do what I can to help the team."

What he would really love to do is hit a game-winning home for Johnny Cueto, or even a walk-off bases loaded walk.