Coming into the 2013 MLB season, most people had the Cincinnati Reds pegged as one of the top teams in the National League. Though they’ve been successful and have looked good, they currently don’t even have the best record in the NL Central as they trail the St. Louis Cardinals by 2.5 games. They still may be one of the best teams in the NL, but they’ve yet to fully show it.
However, it’s not entirely fair to judge the Reds on their performance thus far as they have been playing without one of the best and most key players for over half of this young season. That changes on Monday night, though, when arguably their best starting pitcher, Johnny Cueto, heads to the mound for the first time since April 13.
Cueto has missed the last month or so after injuring an oblique that required him to have back surgery. Now fully recovered, the 27-year-old hurler will return to the mound and should be able to give this Cincinnati team a boost that might vault them to the top of the division sooner rather than later.
Cueto was dominant for the Reds last season, going 19-9 in 33 starts and pitching a nice 217 innings. He also posted a quality 2.78 ERA and a 2.03 walks per nine innings rate, the lowest of his career. Cueto also delivered a solid 1.17 WHIP and a solid 0.62 home runs allowed per nine innings.
He was injured in his third start this season, but looked relatively solid. In 17.1 innings pitched, Cueto posted a 2.60 ERA, a fantastic 1.04 WHIP, and was averaging over a strikeout per inning. One thing that the Reds need to keep an eye on, though, is his walk rate, which was at 3.12 per nine innings, the highest since the 2009 season, before the injury. His strikeout rate was much higher too, but that doesn’t mean the increased walk rate isn’t a tad bit troublesome.
Cueto will likely be on a strict pitch count in his first game back on Monday. However, he looked solid in two rehab starts at Single-A, allowing just one earned run in eight innings pitched. Cueto should be rounding into form soon for the Reds and that will give the team a huge lift, likely back into that conversation about the best teams in the NL.