When Johnny Cueto clutched his right, throwing arm on the mound, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker wanted to look the other way and pretend that he didn’t see anything. That’s the kind of denial most big-league managers would love to indulge in when something goes haywire with one of their guys.
But there are more reality shows than fantasy shows on TV, so eventually Baker had to find out what was going on.
“I didn’t even want to go out there,” Baker said the other day when Cueto was placed on the 15-day disabled list.
Predicting the results of the baseball season is like long-term weather guessing. First come the forecasts and then the weather does whatever it wants anyway. The Reds are kind of in that situation at the moment. Just about everyone who ever watched nine innings predicted that Cincinnati would rule the National League Central Division this season.
But that was before left-fielder Ryan Ludwick dislocated his shoulder in the season’s first game. That was before set-up man Sean Marshall came up with a lame arm. And that was before Cueto felt his twinge. At the moment Baker was contemplating Cueto’s status in the universe the Reds were on a five-game losing streak and looking more fragile than formidable.
Going into a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Baker was lamenting his bullpen situation–fearing a group of tired arms. He had already casually informed starter Bronson Arroyo that it would be really great if he pitched a complete game. Complete games from the starters was what Dr. Baker ordered to provide a break for the pen. In a perfect world he wouldn’t call to the pen for two or three days.
“Our bullpen is taxed,” Baker said. “Oh man, oh yeah, that would be wonderful, a complete game. A couple of complete games would be even better.”
Baker must have been sending powerful messages because that night Arroyo went eight and the Reds won 4-2. The next night Homer Bailey went eight, shutting out the Phils on two hits over that span, although the game was suspended after nine at 0-0. When you get starting pitching like that the world looks like a better place.
But the Reds cannot afford to lose Cueto for any length of time. In 2012 he emerged as the staff ace and won 19 games. Cueto is 1-0 with a 2.60 earned run average and even in the game last weekend against the Pittsburgh Pirates when he got hurt he seemed to be cruising.
Cueto is from the Dominican Republic and his first language is Spanish. He spoke about his injury through an interpreter. He pointed to his right tricep to explain where the sudden pain hit him on the mound and then said the doctor’s diagnosis was that he has a minor back strain. Better the back than the arm probably.
Baker estimated that Cueto would miss perhaps four starts, an uncomfortable hit to the rotation. “We’re gonna miss him. We hate to lose Johnny period.” The Reds figure to bring up someone from AAA Louisville for one or more starts in Cueto’s place.
Cueto said the doctor told him he might only miss two starts, but he found that dispiriting enough. “This is unbelievable,” Cueto said. “I was feeling so good. Just one pitch I threw and that was it. God willing I will be better in five or six days.”
Cueto may be feeling better by the end of the week, but he will not immediately be tossed into a game without some time invested in regaining his rhythm. Still, missing Cueto for a week or two is a lot different than having him out for months. In weather predicting terms that’s like putting up with a light shower instead of a hurricane.