Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Cueto looks stellar in return; Possible Wildcard Game Starter?

Johnny Cueto had a stellar return tonight for the Reds against the Astros. Cueto exited after 5 innings and 82 pitches. Of Cueto’s 82 pitches, 50 of them were thrown for strikes. Cueto faced 20 batters and recorded five outs via groundouts and three via flyball. His final line for the night was 5 IP 5 H 1 BB 5 K.

Cueto plans on using these final 11 games to prove that he is both healthy and capable of contributing for the Reds come playoff time.

His return comes at a time in which the Reds desperately need him. Following consecutive series losses to the Cubs and Brewers, it seems like ages ago the Reds were making strides towards the top of the NL Central.

Now, sitting 3.5 games back of both the Cardinals and Pirates, it seems increasingly likely that the Reds will wind up in the one-game wildcard playoff. So, the question is who should start on the mound for the Reds in that potential game?

Operating under the assumption that the NL Central will field three playoff teams (which also seems increasingly likely), the Reds would face either the Cardinals or Pirates in the one-game playoff.

Cueto is an interesting and enticing choice to start. It was just last week that I questioned whether or not he should even be on the playoff roster. Now, my question is should Cueto start a potential one-game playoff?

He faced the Pirates twice this year, logging 12.1 innings with a 0.73 ERA. Pirate batters hit just .079 against Cueto in those two games, both of which came on the road at PNC Park. Cueto has not faced the Cardinals this year.

Just by the numbers it is obvious that Cueto has been extremely effective against the Pirates this year. I was at Cueto’s last start against the Pirates in May when he went 8 innings allowing just a bloop single over Zack Cozart‘s head. The Pirates looked futile at the plate in that game.

Cueto has not faced the Cardinals this season, which could be viewed as a benefit for him and the Reds if they were to match up with the Cards in the one-game playoff.

The wildcard game is set to be played on Tuesday, Oct. 1. The winner of that game then plays in the NLDS. That schedule looks like this:

Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 3

Game 2: Friday, Oct. 4

Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 6

Game 4: Monday, Oct. 7 (if necessary)

Game 5: Wednesday, Oct. 9 (if necessary)

That means that if the Reds were to use Cueto and win he could then return on full rest for Game 3.

The Reds would be set up with co-ace Mat Latos to open up the NLDS. Homer Bailey could then follow Latos before Cueto returned for Game 3. That would still leave Bronson Arroyo for a possible Game 4 before Latos would come back for a must-win Game 5 if needed.

It’s obviously a gamble to throw Cueto in a must-win matchup. If he were to get hurt in the one-game playoff, the Reds entire pitching for the playoffs could be thrown off. On the other hand, if Cueto were able to pitch as he is capable then he would be a huge addition and the Reds would have one of the strongest playoff rotations.

Tags: Cincinnati Reds Johnny Cueto

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