On a day in which he had a career performance, Johnny Cueto led the Cincinnati Reds to a 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Over the course of his career, Cueto has always been referred to as the Reds stopper. With the team yet to win a series in 2014, he would need to overcome past demons from just a few short months ago to lead them out of the dark. On the back of a phenomenal 3-hit, 12-strikeout performance (a career-high), Cueto went the distance in just 108 pitches and tossed a complete game shutout.
Coming into the contest, the Reds knew they faced an uphill battle, regardless of how well they had been swinging the bats coming in. Jay Bruce conveniently had a built-in day off scheduled against a pitcher whom he was 0-for-11 against, eliminating the big bopper from action. All those in the starting lineup today outside of Brayan Pena, remember what Francisco Liriano did to them the last time they squared off. Today may have been a minor semblance of revenge, but the nectar sure does taste sweet.
From the onset, it did not appear Liriano had remembered to bring his slider with him. Walking Billy Hamilton to lead off the game is the perfect way to proclaim that you like to live life dangerously. Promptly, Billy stole second and then went to third on a wild pitch. Those clamoring for a Joey Votto RBI would have to wait, because Liriano was not interested in facing the new two-hole hitter. Finding himself in a precarious position early on, another slider bounced a foot in front of the plate, allowing Hamilton to score and Votto to move into scoring position without so much as contact being made.
Then, Francisco Liriano dialed it up.
Finding his release point, making contact against the Comeback Player of the Year from 2013 became quite difficult. He finished the afternoon with seven innings pitched and seven punchouts, but could not escape one last time.
In some of the oddest occurrences in recent memory, Johnny Cueto was called out twice in a row during his at-bats. The first time, he was out of the batter’s box when he made contact on a bunt, rendering him out immediately. Strolling into the box in the fifth, he attempted to drop down a sacrifice but forgot the whole concept of running down the line; thusly he was ruled out for interference. Predictably, when he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, he looked as if he wanted to be anywhere but there. Going down 0-2 in the count to Liriano, Cueto swung his bat as one would twirl a baton, just to watch the ball go into centerfield for a single.
Sticking with the theme of innings being extended, just two batters later, Joey Votto annihilated a fastball on the inner-half from Liriano to put the Reds up 3-0. For the first time since the first half of 2012 when he seemed destined to win his second National League MVP trophy, Votto is pulling the ball out of the park. The past eighteen months have been as easy as any pitcher will ever have it against Votto, which is a frightening thought.
With the institution of replay into baseball this year, no game can come without controversy. It’s impact on the outcome of the contest was zilch, but that won’t always be the case.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Zack Cozart hit a tapper to Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer who came home with the play and got Roger Bernadina sliding into home. In years past, no problem whatsoever, move on. But now with replay, one can clearly see Tony Sanchez camped out in front of home plate. He may as well have set up a campfire, roasted some marshmallows and played the banjo. According to these “replay rules,” that may, or may not, include what a manager wants to challenge, umpires have to look the other way on whether or not a premature blocking of the plate occurred.
This was always going to be the problem with replay—you cannot un-see something. Watching the video, it is blatantly apparent that Sanchez has positioned himself like a baby turtle over the outer left corner of the plate, leaving Bernadina nowhere to go, well before Mercer even releases the ball. The combination of the “no collision” rule and the flawed replay system ran the Reds right into an out–no question about it. Today, it may not have mattered in the slightest. Come September, it may be rearing its head again.
Lost amongst the much deserved hoopla surrounding Johnny Cueto’s outing will be the three stolen bases the Reds swiped. Keeping up with the ways of new manager Bryan Price, the club has shown to be incredibly active on the bases. This afternoon, Billy Hamilton got his third and fourth steals of the year, while Chris Heisey even caught the Bucs sleeping for his third.
Sitting at 6-9 may not be appealing, but knowing that it could be worse makes it all the more better. Getting a day off tomorrow to recoup before heading on a colossal three-city road trip, the team will look to return home at .500 or better.
Starting with three in Chicago, followed by four in Pittsburgh, and three in Atlanta, a 7-3 record would bring them home back over .500.
The next time the club takes to the field will be Friday afternoon at 2:20 P.M. for a classic Wrigley Field day game (which the whole series will be). With Mat Latos still a ways off from returning, Alfredo Simon will make his third start of the season against Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija.
Now that the kinks have been shaken off, let’s see how this Reds club can play on the road as we get the ball rolling in 2014.