It’s as if the folk hero from San Pedro de Macoris, Johnny Cueto, never missed a beat as he twirled five unblemished innings down in the Lone Star state on Monday night.
While having virtually little to zero rehab sessions outside of a simulated game or two, Cueto was thrust into Major League action at a point in the season where wins are vital. The forgotten ace of the staff twirled a typical Johnny Cueto gem, throwing his fastball consistently from 90-93 MPH with great tailing action and absolutely devastating hitters from both sides of the plate with his drop-off-the-table changeup.
Thankfully for Cueto, the offense was able to attack Erik Bedard early, and often. After leaving a hanging breaking ball over the plate in a 3-1 count to Zack Cozart, the Reds jumped out to a 2-0 advantage in the top of the second as #2 blasted his 11th homerun of the year into the Crawford boxes in left field.
Production from the Reds shortstop did not stop there. After watching Todd Frazier go down flailing with the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the 4th, Cozart picked up the slack by knuckling a base hit into right field scoring both Joey Votto and Jay Bruce to give the Redlegs the 4-0 lead.
Lucas Harrell came on in the 5th for the Astros and promptly gave up two more runs to the Reds, this time at the hands of a Jay Bruce two-RBI roller back up the middle that put the game out of reach and the Reds offense, into cruise control. Whether it was a combination of Harrell finding a more consistent release point; or the Redlegs saving their swings for tomorrow, the young Astro with an ERA north of 6, held the club scoreless over the remaining four innings.
Unlike Sunday afternoon, both the bullpen and defense were on top of their game for the duration, aiding Alfredo Simon for three innings and Logan Ondrusek for a perfect ninth. With all the talk of attempting to find innings for Sean Marshall, I must admit I was mildly surprised the big, tall lefty didn’t find his way into one that the Reds seemed to be in control of.
As far as the concerns on the night go, Ryan Ludwick did seem to look a little uncomfortable in the box and it seems that he won’t just find his swing overnight. The good news on that front is that he has the remaining two weeks of the season to get the rust out and get his powerful bat ready for postseason play.
The Reds also struck gold in that they received help from both the San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies, who knocked off the Pirates and Cardinals, respectively, to help the Redlegs pull back to within two and a half games of both the division and home-field wildcard spot with 11 games remaining.
Knowing that anything less than a sweep from this series will be a disappointment, it should be exciting to see if the club shows the killer instinct it has kept so dormant all season long over the next few nights as they play in front of sparse crowds and inferior competition. Staying within range of Pittsburgh is definitely a plus, but avoiding a one-game playoff is an even bigger plus as the likes of Francisco Liriano, Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller all lurk in game 163.