CINCINNATI- The San Diego Padres have one of the more anemic offenses in Major League Baseball and will have a tall order on tonight: trying to slow the historically good start to the season currently being enjoyed by Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto.
Cueto, who is scheduled to work opposite Ian Kennedy, is the Major League leader in ERA (1.43), innings pitched (63) and opponents’ batting average (.138). He is the first Reds pitcher to throw at least seven innings in his first eight starts of a season since Bucky Walters in 1944.
“I was really impressed by the hits-to-innings-pitched — really, really impressive,” Padres manager Bud Black said. “Not knowing him, but just following a little bit from afar, it seems like now he’s totally healthy; I know that he’s fought some injuries over the last couple of years, a variety of things going on physically.
“But I can’t imagine anybody pitching any better than he has this early part of the season. Eight starts, 63 innings, that’s impressive. I’m not a mathematician, but that’s almost eight innings a start. In this day and age, that’s pretty good. Walks are down, strikeouts are up. It’s real, he’s good. He’s got a good arm, he’s got good stuff.”
Until Cueto’s eight-inning start vs. the Rockies on Friday, no one in the Majors began a season with at least seven innings pitched over the first eight starts with two runs or fewer allowed in each since the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.
“I’m amazed, and yet not surprised, because I’ve had a chance to see him a lot,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “I’ve talked with Johnny in the past about empty pitches, which are pitches that are thrown that really didn’t serve a purpose — like a high fastball or a slider that misses way off the plate. It didn’t serve any value. He has thrown so few of those pitches this year. He’s around the plate with everything. When he’s not, he’s teasing the hitter just off the plate or just below or above the zone.
“He’s quite pitch efficient. He’s not going into the eighth inning with 119 pitches or throwing 135 pitches to throw nine innings. He’s so pitch efficient, that it’s a lot more comfortable to see him out there in seventh, eighth and ninth innings and see those innings start to stockpile.”
San Diego might be able to take advantage of some of Cueto’s misfortune, however. He has only a 3-2 record, because he’s been a victim of either low run support or blown saves (two)
Lifetime vs. the Padres, Cueto is 2-2 with a 6.00 ERA, with his last victory coming on Aug. 2, 2012 in Cincinnati.
Reds outfielder Chris Heisey has long been a clutch bat off the bench, but he has yet to transcend that success when playing more regularly. Heisey entered Tuesday batting .212 in games he starts, compared to .286 when coming off the bench this season. As a pinch-hitter, he’s hitting .308 and is tied for the league lead with six RBIs.
Heisey is getting to play more often with right fielder Jay Bruce on the disabled list after having left knee surgery last week. Bruce is expected to miss up to four weeks.
“I think it’s a challenge for anybody that’s done both — that’s been a bench player and a regular player, trying to make the most of their opportunities,” Price said. “I think Chris gives us energy every time he’s in the lineup. He does great things for us in the outfield and on the bases. …
“He’s been a tremendous bench for us, and that’s great. However … I really see him as a regular everyday player in the big leagues for the Reds. He’s been getting some opportunities, and I assume every time he’s out there, he’ll do well.”
• Reds third baseman Todd Frazier extended his career-best hitting streak to 12 games on Tuesday with a leadoff double in the fourth inning.
First pitch is at 7:10pm, TV: FSN OHIO, RADIO: 700 WLW