Unless there is a gigantic collapse of epic proportions, the Cincinnati Reds will make the postseason in some way, shape or form as either the NL Central champions or one of the two NL Wild Card spots.
Knowing that the odds are in favor of the Reds playing in October, one question needs to be answered, but by whom and when will be a whole different story.
The question is, Where will Johnny Cueto fit into the Reds’ postseason pitching roster?
Cueto was the Opening Day starter for the Reds. He was their ace to start the season, and many figured he would even make the postseason the Reds would need a great season from the right-hander who went 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA in 33 starts last season.
This year hasn’t been one for Cueto to put on the career highlight reel as far as his health has gone, but when pitching he’s been productive.
With multiple stints on the disabled list in ’13 Cueto has battled a strained lat muscle, but in his first start in nearly three months on Sept. 16, Cueto looked more like the pitcher he was before he became plagued with injuries.
In that start, at the Houston Astros (the majors’ worst team), the right-handed pitcher went five innings of scoreless baseball. He struck out five and walked just one to move his ERA to 3.02 this season in 53.2 innings pitched.
Following that start, Reds.com beat reporter Mark Sheldon wrote that Cueto said through translator Tomas Vera, “I don’t have words to describe it. It’s a really amazing feeling for me. For that long a time without pitching, and I came into today feeling really great. I feel really good today.”
Reds manager Dusty Baker said after Cueto’s start in Houston, “We just hope that he continues to be well and continues to get better and his endurance gets better. That’s a tremendous shot in the arm and boost for our team.”
Sheldon reported that Cueto’s velocity on his pitches were in the 91-94 mph range, and he hit 95 mph on the radar gun once. He threw 82 pitches in the first start back.
Before the Sept. 16 start, his previous start that landed him on the DL was at the Texas Rangers on June 28, where he pitched one inning before leaving the game.
His next start comes Monday in Cincinnati against the visiting New York Mets in what will be the final week of the regular season.
With everything said, a lot depends on Cueto’s future in how he performs on Monday against the Mets. Cueto has faced the Mets once this season, in New York, where he struck out eight in five innings. In that May 20 start, Cueto allowed three hits and three earned runs.
I like to think we’ll see more of the Cueto we saw in the start in Houston, the one that had control of his pitches and struck out batters. The one who didn’t allow an earned run, rather than the pitcher we saw grimace in pain and be placed on the DL this season.
In his career, Cueto has 748 strikeouts (46 this season) and has held opposing batters to a .218 average in ’13.
Take away the injuries and DL stints, and who knows what type of season the Dominican native would or could have had.
Don’t forget Cueto is just 27 years old, and if healthy, I would put him in the Top 10 of pitchers in the NL and maybe in all of the MLB. He’s that good when he’s on the top of his game.
Cueto should have been an All-Star selection last season, and if he gets through Monday’s start with good health, he could start again in the final regular-season series against the Pittsburgh Pirates where a lot could be at stake in that series, more than likely home field for the NL Wild Card game.
From there, who knows?
Do I see Cueto in a starting rotation if the Reds reach the NLDS? No, I don’t, just because of the uncertainty of his situation and his injury history.
Say the Reds qualify for the NLDS … think of what an asset Cueto could be out of the bullpen. How many teams would have the luxury to have a player of Cueto’s caliber to call from the bullpen in the postseason?
As we near his Monday start, a good outing with even better health is probably the goal of the Reds and Cueto. If he leaves healthy and enters the postseason with good health, I would bring Cueto out of the bullpen, but would be tempted to start him.
As for the Reds … it will be interesting to see what they choose to do with Cueto. Now we wait.