Cueto earns top spot in Reds rotation

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Johnny Cueto, at the baseball tender age of 26, has

worked his way to the top of the pitching rotation for the Cincinnati Reds — or

as Frank Sinatra sang it, “King of the hill, top of the heap, A-No.

1.”

If all goes as planned, Cueto will be standing on the mound in Great American

Ball Park on Opening Day.

Plus, mix in a heaping dose of maturity for Cueto, enough so that he already is

mentoring a 21-year-old fellow Dominican pitching prospect named Daniel

Corcino.

On Monday morning, with dew still on the grass and the sun barely peeking over

the hills beyond the Goodyear Baseball Complex, Cueto was sitting in the dugout

watching Corcino start a 10 a.m. ‘B’ game against the Seattle Mariners.

On Monday afternoon, Cueto was on the mound for the day’s ‘A’ game, making his

2012 spring training debut against the Cleveland Indians — two innings, one

run, two hits, no walks and two strikeouts as the Reds pounded and pummeled the

Tribe 12-7.

Corcino was 11-7 with a 3.42 ERA in 26 starts last season at Class A Dayton and

he certainly realizes how to get ahead. He made himself Cueto’s shadow, even

when the sun isn’t shining.

“He is always playing catch with Cueto and follows him around,” manager

Dusty Baker said. “I call him Cueto Jr., and he is pretty proud of

that.”

And Cocino knew Cueto was observing his protégé during the ‘B’ game from the

dugout.

“He kept yelling at me, ‘Low, low. Stay low,'” Corcino said. “I

never knew Cueto until I came to camp with the Reds in 2008. He is a very nice

guy, helps me a lot. He tells me every day what I did good or bad and tells me

what I need to do every day.”

Baker watched Corcino work, the first time the skipper saw the young

right-hander pitch in a game.

“Our reports on him are very good,” Baker said. “I know he

really gets after it, the main thing you have to like. You have to calm him

down. He throws the ball 100 miles an hour on every drill. He is first whenever

we do our warmup drills in the morning. He is refreshing, really. I have to

tell him, ‘Hey, man, don’t worry about keeping up with everybody else, just do

your thing.’

“He is a smart young man, too. He speaks good English for the small amount

of time he has been here.”

Cueto, chomping hard on an aromatic fruity gum after his two innings, smiled

broadly when asked about Corcino.

“I really like how he throws,” Cueto said. “He looks like me. He

has courage. He is starting out the same way I did and I hope soon he can come

up here and help us.”

Of more importance right now is the health and well-being of Cueto, who was

injured last spring and missed the first month of the season.

“Being healthy is so important that I asked God to protect me and let me

be healthy for the season, be ready for the start of the season,” he said.

“I’m working harder, a little extra, a little more than I’m supposed to

do. I lost a month of the offseason (some personal things that happened,

preventing him from working out).”

Despite giving up a run in the first inning when Cleveland leadoff hitter

Michael Brantley tripled after Cueto fell behind 3-0, Cueto was enthralled with

his day.

“I felt really good, really relaxed,” Cueto said. He followed the

advice he was giving Corcino, “because I concentrated on keeping my

pitches low and did it, kept the ball down.”

The first three pitches Cueto threw were out of the strike zone and when

somebody asked if he was nervous, he laughed heartily and gave an Alfred E.

Newman “What, Me Worry?” smile. “Me? Nah. No. Not nervous.”

Obviously, an Opening Day pitcher who is mentoring an upcoming pitcher never

admits to nerves.

The Reds offense was on search and destroy Monday, scoring six runs on five

hits and three walks in only 1 1/3 innings against Indians starter Justin

Masterson.

“I made them feel pretty good about themselves,” Masterson said.

Of particular note was a two-run single he gave up to Joey Votto in the second

inning after making the mistake of walking light-hitting Paul Janish ahead of Votto,

loading the bases.

Masterson jammed him with a pitch, but Votto shot it through the shortstop

hole.

“He is an unbelievable hitter,” Masterson said of Votto. “How do

you get a hit when you’re jammed like that? For him to go get that ball with

quick hands this early in camp is amazing.”

Meanwhile, center fielder Drew Stubbs, who led baseball last year with 205

strikeouts, now has seven plate appearances this spring and has yet to strike

out. Fans also want to see the cheetah-fleet Stubbs bunt more. In the third

inning Monday he bunted for a hit.

Catcher Corky Miller put a point-of-emphasis on the game with a two-run homer

off Tony Sipp during a four-run sixth inning.