The “Cueto” crowd chant reached a feverish pitch in last year’s NL Wild Card game in Pittsburgh between the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The result of the crowd chant seemed to unnerve Reds’ ace Johnny Cueto, who dropped the ball on the mound when the chanting started and got knocked out of the game shortly thereafter in a convincing Reds defeat.
The Wild Card start marked just Cueto’s third consecutive start since his return from his third stint on the disabled list in 2013. Had Cueto been in mid-season form for the Wild Card game, the outcome could have been different.
But as it were, the outcome was a disaster for Cueto and the Reds.
Undoubtedly, Cueto had made some mental note about when he might be once again facing the Pirates, who he has dominated throughout his career (13-4 with a 2.37 ERA in 21 career regular season starts heading into the 2013 season).
When that day came, Cueto was ready. His three-hit shutout with a career-high 12 strikeouts against the Pirates gave the scuffling Reds the team’s first series win of the young 2014 season. Cueto delivered a masterful exhibition of what exactly has made him one of the most dominating starting pitchers in baseball since 2011 (second in ERA at 2.61 among pitchers with at least 400 innings pitched from 2011-2013).
Cueto has to prove he can remain healthy for the entire season if he can expect to duplicate his 19-9 season of 2012 in which he posted a 2.78 ERA in 217 innings. Should the Reds recover from their slow start and contend once again in the NL Central, Cueto will have to be a big part of that success.
What’s more, if the Reds are going to eventually advance in a postseason series, Cueto will have to pitch a whole lot more like he did in his victorious rematch against the Pirates in 2014 than he did in the Wild Card loss of 2013.