Following 2 1/2 months on the disabled list, Reds ace Johnny Cueto has only a amount of days to show he can still help his team down the stretch, and possibly into October.
The most important part of the Reds’ 6-1 victory over the Astros on Monday was that Cueto (5-2) showed no outward signs of discomfort from the strained right lat muscle that put him on the DL three times this season.
Cueto showed good results. He went five scoreless innings on five hits with one walk and five strikeouts, while throwing 82 pitches.
“I don’t have words to describe it. It’s a really amazing feeling for me,” Cueto said via translator Tomas Vera. “For that long a time without pitching, and I came into today feeling really great. I feel really good today.”
Cueto’s return came on a night where the Reds got much needed help. Losses by both tied first-place teams in the National League Central, the Cardinals and Pirates, put third-place Cincinnati 2 1/2 games back with 11 left to play in the season.
Of the five hits on Cueto’s allowed, two were infield hits and two others were soft singles on the ground.
As far as velocity, Cueto’s fastball was generally in the 91-94 mph range and he touched 95 mph once. The Astros discovered quickly that Cueto did not appear to pitch like a guy who missed so much time. His last start was June 28 at Texas, when soreness under his arm ended his night after only one inning.
The Reds gave Cueto plenty of run support, thanks to Cozart, hit a two-run home run off of Astros starter Eric Bedard to left field with two outs in the second inning.
In the top of the fourth, Joey Votto‘s leadoff single and back-to-back walks loaded the bases with no outs. Cozart hit a one-out single to right field for two more RBIs.With the bases loaded in the fifth and one out, Jay Bruce hit a two-run single up that made it a 6-0 game.
Cueto took a pitch count of 59 into the bottom of the fifth, when he showed his first signs of trouble. A soft one-out single, followed by infield hit to the shortstop. A two-out walk to loaded the bases and brought Reds pitching coach Bryan Price to the mound for a quick chat.
With the Reds bullpen used a lot recently, Cueto bore down and with his 82nd pitch, struck out Altuve with to end the threat.
“Bryan came out and told me, ‘This is your last hitter,’” Cueto said. “So I was one out away and he’s a great hitter, so I have to make an out no matter what. When I did it, I felt really happy.”
Alfredo Simon took over for the sixth and gave up a leadoff double the runner later scored on RBI groundout to second. Simon pitched a solid three innings of relief.
The Reds have proceeded with extra caution in bringing Cueto back after setbacks in his two earlier returns. He threw two simulated games and several bullpen sessions before getting the call to be activated from the DL.
There was only a slight adjustment to the twist in Cueto’s delivery, which wasn’t believed to be the cause of his injury.
Cueto believed his injury was finally behind him for good. It’s not yet known when his next outing might be. He is not listed to pitch in the next series vs. the Pirates this weekend. Tonight’s pitching match up will be Mike Leake and Jordan Lyles. First pitch is at 8:10pm.