Returning Johnny Cueto Looks to Pitch Cincinnati Reds Past Houston Astros

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Reds are currently in line to receive the second National League wild card spot, with either the Pittsburgh Pirates or St. Louis Cardinals — two of their fellow NL Central clubs — poised to take the first wild card slot.

Presently holding a 4.5-game lead over the Washington Nationals, the Reds begin a three-game series with the Houston Astros on Monday in Houston.

Not only will Cincinnati be facing the team with the worst record in MLB, but they will also be getting their top starting pitcher back, as Johnny Cueto will make his first start since suffering a strained right lat muscle that has forced him to miss the last two and a half months.

After posting a 19-9 record to go with a 2.78 ERA last year, the 27-year-old right-hander made nine starts earlier this season, going 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA despite an early month-plus stint on the disabled list due to a strained muscle behind his right shoulder.

But if Cueto can bounce back and be the pitcher that he’s capable of being — which is the ace of the staff — the fact that he’s so fresh after not pitching since June 28 could greatly benefit the Reds as they continue to fight for a playoff spot and attempt to make a deep run in October.

“He appears relatively ready from what we’ve seen,” Reds manager Dusty Baker told the team’s official website following Sunday’s 6-5 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. “It’s worth the effort because he’s Johnny Cueto. The more we get out of him tomorrow, the more we get out of him the next time, and who knows where he’s going to be ready come playoff time.”

As for the Astros, the only role they can play in the playoff race is that of the spoiler, as well as that of a team that is trying to avoid its third straight 100-loss season.

Josh McKinney is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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