Reds' ace Cueto eager to compete after injury
Thursday, February 14, 2013 10:00 AM
GOODYEAR, Ariz. - Johnny Cueto's postseason ended after only eight pitches, a most disappointing way to finish an otherwise stellar year. After taking time off, he has recovered from the injury that cost the Cincinnati Reds their ace and played a major role in their first-round elimination.
Cincinnati Reds at a glance
Manager: Dusty Baker (sixth season).
2012: 97-65, first place, lost in division series.
Training Town: Goodyear, Ariz.
Park: Goodyear Ballpark.
First Workout: Feb. 12/15.
He's Here: OF Shin-Soo Choo, INF Jack Hannahan, LHP Manny Parra, C Miguel Olivo.
He's Outta Here: OF Drew Stubbs, INF Wilson Valdez, LHP Bill Bray, RHP Ryan Madson, C Dioner Navarro, INF Miguel Cairo.
Going campin': The Reds have brought their division title team back mostly intact, thinking they have enough talent to contend for several years. The biggest change is in CF, where Choo replaces the strikeout-prone Stubbs, part of a three-team trade in the offseason. Choo hasn't played much center field lately, so it'll be interesting to see how well he does defensively. He's likely a one-year fix at the position while Billy Hamilton learns to play center at Triple-A this season. The other big change: Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman moves from the closer role into the rotation. Chapman was sensational as the fill-in closer last season. The Reds signed Jonathan Broxton - a midseason trade acquisition - to a three-year, $21 million deal, giving themselves a closer and opening the way for Chapman to contend for a spot in the rotation during spring training. The Reds will be looking to see how 1B Joey Votto has recovered from midseason knee surgery that sapped his power the rest of the year. Todd Frazier is set to take over at third base for Scott Rolen, who declined an invitation to camp and is deciding whether to play one more season in a limited role or retire. Baker got a two-year contract extension after a late-season scare - an irregular heartbeat that left him hospitalized but is under control. The Reds have won the NL Central twice in the last three years, failing to advance past the first round of the playoffs each time. They think that if they can stay healthy - none of their starting pitchers missed time due to injury last season until Johnny Cueto got hurt in the playoffs - they're in good shape for another run at the postseason.
And he's very eager to pitch in a meaningful game as soon as possible, though his manager would like him to wait.
The 19-game winner said on Wednesday that he's had no lingering problems from the pulled muscles in his right side that knocked him out of the playoff opener in San Francisco.
"I feel good," Cueto said. "I feel 100 percent."
He adjusted his offseason program to let the injury heal, taking time off instead of throwing. He'd like to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, but wasn't on its preliminary roster. He hopes to be added to the final roster.
"I haven't heard anything," Cueto said. "I would like to pitch. I was disappointed that I couldn't pitch more in the playoffs."
It'll be fine with manager Dusty Baker if Cueto is limited to getting into shape during spring training games rather than testing himself in the WBC, which makes him worried about injury.
"Well, I'm not especially OK with that, but I can understand the pressures that come from being from Latin America," Baker said. "There's more national pride than anybody I've seen, almost. Guys from the Dominican are proud to be from there. You see how big the Caribbean Series is for bragging rights in Latin America. They could be where the best overall baseball is played.
"I know the pressures that come from being there when I played winter ball."
Cueto pitched 4 2-3 scoreless innings for the Dominican Republic during a 9-0 win over Panama in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He came down with inflammation in his shoulder the following August. Former Reds starter Edinson Volquez also pitched the WBC and later suffered a torn elbow ligament.
Those injuries made Baker wary.
"All I know is the last time they played it, Cueto and Volquez both came up hurting," Baker said. "We have spring training for a reason. Even when you start the season, the starting pitchers can only go seven innings max. These guys are going to try to do more (with the WBC).
"Imagine a 0-0 game or 1-0 against Venezuela. You've got to take them out. They are not going to come out and I don't blame them."
Cueto was the Reds' top starter during their run to a second NL Central title in three years. He went 19-9 with a 2.78 earned run average and earned two complete games in 33 starts last season. He struck out a team-high 170 batters.
The Reds made it through the season with none of their starters missing a game because of injury. That changed when Cueto pulled muscles in his right side on his eighth pitch in the opening playoff game at San Francisco. The Reds won the first two there, and had three chances to close it out in Cincinnati.
With Cueto still ailing, the Reds replaced him on the roster with Mike Leake. The Reds dropped all three games in Cincinnati and the series.
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