CINCINNATI – Those around Johnny Cueto on the Reds have long run out of superlatives to describe his performances after each start this season.
In a 5-0 Reds win over the Padres in Game 1 of a day-night doubleheader at Great American Ball Park, Cueto faced two batters over the minimum for a three-hit shutout while walking two and striking out eight. It was his third complete game.
“That guy, he needs to start getting some national attention,” said Reds shortstop Zack Cozart, who had three hits, including a two-run single. “I was watching TV the other day and they were still talking about [Zack] Greinke and [Clayton] Kershaw and [Jose] Fernandez. I’m like, ‘What about Johnny C.?’”
For the first time this season, Cueto did not allow an extra-base hit. No Padres batters reached second base in the game until Will Venable did so in the ninth. After his two-out walk, Venable advanced on defensive indifference. On Cueto’s 116th and final pitch of the game, he got Everth Cabrera to ground routinely back towards the mound to end the game.
“I think there have been games where he’s been sharper, but he just kept making pitches,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “I don’t know what else I can say about Johnny.”
Cueto now has six straight starts of eight innings or more. No one has done that in the big leagues since Cliff Lee ran off a streak of 10 in a row in 2010, and no Reds pitcher has achieved that since Tom Browning in 1989.
Over his last 55 innings, Cueto has allowed only five runs to lower his Major League-leading ERA to 1.25 over a league-most 72 innings pitched. He has yet to give up more than five hits in a game this season.
“I will say yes, because the numbers talk,” Cueto said via translator Tomas Vera. “My numbers are going to talk for me. Everybody else has to do and worry about their own numbers. When I go on the mound, I do my job. I have to do my job to get the best numbers.”
To find the last Major League pitcher to start a season with at least seven innings pitched and two runs or fewer allowed over his first nine starts, one has to look back to the dead-ball era. Harry Krause of the 1909 Philadelphia Athletics did it over 10 straight starts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“I didn’t know that was something that was there,” Cueto said. “Now that I know, I will say, ‘Thank god that I’m the guy doing it after 100 years.’”
No Reds pitcher has worked at least seven innings in their first nine starts since Bucky Walters began the 1944 season with 20 in a row.
“[What's] funny as we’ve covered so much about Johnny and the start of his season is that he’s so good at holding runners,” Price said. “I think he has the quickest feet and the best move in the National League. He’s great at holding runners. He’s quick to the plate. He gives our catchers a chance to throw guys out should they attempt to steal. Every facet of the game seems to just be right where it needs to be to have a sensational start to the season, which he’s had.”
Both starting pitchers were moved back a day because of Wednesday’s rainout. Coincidentally, Cueto did not feel his best warming up in the bullpen on Thursday before the game.
“Maybe [the postponement was] one of the reasons,” Cueto said. “When you go in a routine and you have a day off and a day off, more than you’re supposed to have, things get heavy. Your body gets heavy. You know what? I have to forget about that.”
Cueto certainly did, and he worked the ninth complete game of his career and fourth career shutout.
“You have to give all the credit to him,” Reds catcher Brayan Pena said. “He continues to improve. He’s just getting better and better each time he goes out there. I’m going to sound like a broken record — he’s the truth. … He’s one the best right now in the game.”