Right-hander Johnny Cueto isn’t quite the second coming of Luis Tiant yet, but the man with the funky delivery where he turns his back to the plate is a throwback. Don’t know how he does it, but Cueto throws strikes anyway as his dark, dreadlocked hair flies.
And after his Saturday showing, he’s got his teammates and manager gushing that we might be seeing the emergence of a pitcher capable of winning the National League Cy Young Award, or at least being named an All-Star. In a timely victory, the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Minnesota Twins, 6-0, at the Great American Ball Park with Cueto pitching seven innings and permitting zero runs on three hits. This marked the seventh time this season that a Cueto start had interrupted a Reds losing streak–Cincinnati is 7-0 in such games and Cueto is 5-0.
Overall, Cueto, 26, is 9-3 this season and if there was any doubt before, he has definitely become the Reds’ No. 1 starter. This is what the Reds hoped to see from the Dominican fastballer all along. Last year Cueto was hurt and that slowed his progress, but he finished 9-5 with a 2.31 earned run average in 156 innings. Pitching healthy, with a fastball in the 92- or 93-mph range, Cueto looks comfortable and in control on the mound and although the description isn’t used as often as it used to be, he is the Reds’ stopper, the guy manager Dusty Baker counts on to eliminate losing streaks.
On a 90-degree day that Cueto said didn’t bother him in the least, all of his stuff was working.
“Everything was normal,” he said through a Spanish interpreter of the day’s apparent temperature demands. “I’m used to working out in the heat. All my pitches were good. Everything I threw I was able to command in the strike zone.” Conscious of the team’s four-game losing streak, Cueto said, “I had to win for my teammates.”
The Reds were in first place in the NL Central, and there wasn’t a real crisis. Still, four-game losing streaks are at the least annoying.
“Great game by Johnny,” Baker said. “That’s what aces do. That’s what All-Stars do. That’s what potential Cy Young Award winners do. They stop streaks.”
There’s no mystery about how Baker feels about Cueto and the attitude has rubbed off with Cueto’s teammates, too.
“We have incredible confidence in Johnny every time he touches the ball,” said third baseman Scott Rolen.
It was Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame Day at the park and that meant a slew of former team stars were in attendance, including Johnny Bench, Davey Concepcion, and Joe Morgan. Cueto said was conscious of so much team history being crammed into the ballpark along with a sell-out crowd of 41,750 and he did want to show off a little bit for them.
“I got a little bit more energy,” Cueto said. “I saw them all here today and I got pumped up.”
The biggest surprise was that Cueto helped his own cause with the bat. Twice the Twins chose to intentionally walk catcher Ryan Hanigan to pitch to Cueto with men on base. It was difficult to blame Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire for that strategy since Cueto is batting .103 this year and his lifetime average is .090 in five seasons.
So what happens? Cueto brings in one run in the fourth inning on a sacrifice bunt with Rolen handling the run in from third in a halfway sneaky, halfway bold fashion to snooker the Twins. And then in the sixth Cueto picked up a second RBI on a grounder to short that left the Twins with no play in the field except throwing him out.
“All I wanted to do was put the ball in play,” Cueto said. “The pitcher came in with a sinker that almost ripped my thumb off.”
That could have been costly, but no harm, no foul. Cueto walked away unscatched, but also the winner.
Topics: Cincinnati Reds, Cy Young Award, Davey Concepcion, Dusty Baker, Great American Ball Park, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Johnny Cueto, Luis Tiant, Minnesota Twins, National League, Ron Gardenhire, Ryan Hanigan, Scott Rolen