Johnny Cueto is an All-Star, through-and-through, and he’s been the best pitcher on the planet through the first half of the 2014 season. There is little doubt that the Cincinnati Reds’ ace deserves to be named as the starting pitcher for the NL All-Star squad when teams are announced on Sunday, but there is at least one compelling reason why that is unlikely to come to pass. More importantly for the Reds, this is the one start that they would definitely prefer for Cueto to skip as the club gears up for the second half.
If Cueto weren’t pitching quite as well, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny might have a quandary on his hands in determining whether or not to start the flamethrower in Minnesota on July 15. As a died-in-the-wool Cardinal, Matheny would probably rather peck through his own fingernails than laud any Reds players, but he also has a vested interest in the outcome of the game since the winning league secures home-field advantage in the World Series. The Cardinals, as Reds fans are only too aware, find their way to the Fall Classic on a regular basis.
As it turns out, though, Cueto’s brilliance this year should make Matheny’s job a lot easier. Cueto is part of a Reds’ rotation that has been surprisingly stout this season, and they’re really the only reason that Cincinnati has stayed within hoping distance of the NL contenders. As the Reds bats have tanked, the starters have picked up the slack, and Cueto is their unquestioned leader.
Given that status, it’s not surprising that manager Bryan Price told Reds.com his first priority is to make sure that Cueto hits all of his starts … for the Reds. As the team heads into the final 10 days before the break, Cueto is scheduled to pitch on Sunday, July 13. According to new All-Star rules adopted in 2010, any starter who pitches on the Sunday before the All-Star game is ineligible to start the Midsummer Classic.
For Matheny, it’s crisis averted. He can name Cueto the starter and then say, “Oh, sorry, he’s ineligible.” Cueto gets the nominative honor, and Matheny can trot out his own ace, Adam Wainwright (assuming HE is eligible).
Reds fans, and maybe even Cueto himself or his teammates, may fret about Johnny missing out on his first chance to start an All-Star game, at age 28, but they shouldn’t. As of July 3, Cueto had already tossed 131 innings on the year, just one season removed from fairly serious problems with his right lat. His previous high-water mark for IP was 217.1 in 2012, the year before the injury, and he’s headed for about 250 at his current workload.
My guess is that pace is not sustainable, particularly at the level of performance we’ve seen so far. Yet, if the Reds’ can’t find some hitting magic, Cueto’s importance to the team rises even more, as they’re too deep into the promise of this season to pack it in and “wait ’til next year.”
Bottom line is that Price is going to have to find ways to get Cueto some relief (terrible baseball pun intended), and skipping the All-Star start is the first step in that process. After all, a healthy playoff ace will be a heckuva lot more valuable in the long run than a flash of All-Stardom in the middle of summer.