Jul 2, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) pitches during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
He waited through a fifth-inning rain delay just to be greeted with a leadoff home run from Neil Walker to start the sixth, but Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto overcame it all to notch his 10th victory on Sunday afternoon at Great American Ballpark. The 6-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates helped the Reds climb back to seven games over .500 as the All-Start Game break looms, marking the official end of baseball’s first half.
It’s a fitting end to an up-and-down three months during which Cueto has been one of the few points of consistency for a Cincinnati team that suddenly finds itself just a game out of first place in the National League Central division. The Reds have been led by a surprisingly strong starting staff that has helped the team stay afloat despite offensive struggles and significant injuries throughout the lineup, including those to first baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips.
Starter Alfredo Simon, who leads the league with 12 wins, has provided shocking performance for a guy who never had any success as a starter and was more or less forced into the role when Mat Latos was injured earlier in the year. Aroldis Chapman has been nearly flawless since coming back from his own horrific spring injury. Third Baseman Todd Frazier has seemingly turned it up a notch in what looks like maybe a peak year, and he landed an All-Star berth on the strength of his solid first half.
But it’s Cueto who has been there, start after start, stopping the bleeding when necessary, and dominating whenever he’s on the mound. Giving up three runs in six innings today was definitely uncharacteristic of his season, which has seen the right-hander strikeout nearly a batter per inning while holding his WHIP below 0.9. That he has lost six games stands an indictment of the poor run support he has received more than any failing on his part.
If there is any downside to Cueto’s first half, it’s that he has already thrown more than 140 innings, leaving him less than 80 from his career-high of 217 in 2012. If he stay’s healthy, he’ll should sail by that mark as the Reds (hopefully) make their post-season push in September. That might be a tall order for a player who was limited to 60 innings just a year ago.
But maybe not. After all, not even weather can stop the 2014 version of Johnny Cueto.