Cueto tuning up for postseason
CINCINNATI – Johnny Cueto has given Dusty Baker and the Reds’ brass something to think about. The right-hander has been away from his normal spot in the starting rotation three times this season because of lat pulls. The latest stint on the disabled list for Cueto
was for more than 11 weeks.
Conventional thought was that if Cueto could return before the end of the season and show he could stay healthy, he’d be a good fit in the bullpen for the postseason. What a luxury to have his quality of stuff available against the best teams of the National League.
The Reds aren’t thinking of limiting Cueto.
Cueto has started twice, albeit against the Astros and Mets, and allowed just one earned run in 12 innings. He’s given up eight hits, walked four and struck out 10. Monday night he went seven innings, allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits and struck out five in a 3-2 win against New York in 10 innings.
A Lucas Duda two-out home run in the sixth inning was Cueto’s one big mistake of the evening.
“He was excellent,” said Baker. “He should have only given up the one home run but he was real good. He went to (99) pitches. He’s getting ready.”
St. Louis beat Washington 4-3 about 15 minutes after Shin-Soo Choo drove in Devin Mesoraco from third base with a single off the left field wall to win it for the Reds. The Cardinals’ victory clinched playoff berths for the Reds and Pittsburgh, who are both still two games behind St. Louis with five games left to play.
The brass has been working on how to shape the postseason roster, not just who will be on it but how they will fit into the puzzle. It wouldn’t be out of question for Cueto to get a start in the playoffs, even the first game the Reds play whether it’s a one-game Wild Card playoff or the first game of the divisional series.
“We’ll see,” was Baker’s response, Cheshire grin across his face, when asked about the possibility of Cueto starting the first game.
Baker is not surprised by how Cueto has returned to the mound.
“Each time he goes out and gets his endurance up, I mean, you know, the other guys have pitched great but Johnny was the man,” said Baker. “Nothing against anybody else but Johnny has a longer and greater track record. It was just a matter of endurance. He trained hard to get to this point. He’s got a strong mind, which is a lot of it.”
The third inning was a test for Cueto. Todd Frazier committed a two-base throwing error on pitcher Aaron Harang’s ground ball to open the inning. Eric Young’s infield single moved Harang to third base. Cueto got Daniel Murphy on a short fly ball to centerfield, too shallow to allow Harang a chance to tag up and score. After walking David Wright, Cueto gave up a sacrifice fly to Duda. Cueto and the Reds got out of the inning when catcher Ryan Hanigan threw out Young attempting to steal third.
Cueto retired nine batters in a row before Duda’s home run.
“I felt normal,” said Cueto through interpreter Tomas Vera. “I actually talked to Dusty after that last inning and I told him ‘I want to go out one more inning, I can pitch the eighth inning’ but because I had close to 100 pitches he said ‘No, no, that’s enough for you.’”
The last year has been a struggle for Cueto to stay healthy. It began with Game 1 of the NLDS last season in San Francisco when he lasted just one batter and eight pitches because of a strained oblique muscle. He went on the disabled list for the first time this year on April 15 after making his first three starts of the season. That cost him one month and five days. His second stint on the DL was from June 5-16. Trip No. 3 to the DL began on June 29.
Monday was just his 11th start of the season. It very well could be his most promising. It could lead to him pitching that first game in the playoffs for a second straight year.
“At this point, I don’t know. They’re the ones who decide. They’re the ones who have the control to do it,” said Cueto through Vera, the interpreter. “But I feel good. I feel like I can do that.”