The title says it all. And I know how crazy it seems to suggest that the Cincinnati Reds use less of their best pitcher, who may also be the best pitcher in baseball right now, but that is exactly what they should start finding ways to do.
The Reds have played 74 games and Johnny Cueto has made 16 starts and thrown 116.0 innings on the year. That puts the right hander on pace for 240 innings over the course of 33 starts. That would blow away his career high innings pitched in a season of 217.0 that he reached in 2012, and it would only be the second time in his career he topped 186.0 innings.
Back in the 2012 season when he threw a career high 217.0 innings, it took him 3449 pitches to get through all of those innings, averaging 104.5pitches per game. So far in the 2014 season Cueto has thrown 1743 pitches (which is easily the most in the National League) to get through his 16 starts, averaging 109 pitches per game. While 4.5 pitches per start doesn’t seem like much, over the course of a season that is an extra game and a half worth of pitches thrown. All by a pitcher who has had trouble staying healthy over the last few seasons (he has missed 29 starts since the start of 2011).
Right now, the Reds are bordering on a very fine line with their best starter and his workload. While he has been extremely pitch efficient on the season, averaging just 15 pitches per inning there are only so many pitches in an arm during a season.That will obviously vary by pitcher, but Cueto doesn’t exactly have the track record of a workhorse either.
Over the three most recent starts, Cueto has thrown 112, 119 and 120 pitches. In the first two games he only lasted for six innings, running up his pitch count. Still, he has been used heavily to this point in the season. If the Reds want to increase their odds of having Cueto on top of his game in August and September (much less October), now is the time to start cutting an inning away every now and again.
Save those extra 15 pitches when you get a chance and hopefully it will show up later in the season, where Cueto has shown throughout his career that he pitches worse as the season goes on. His ERA in April is 2.90. In May it dips down to 2.75. For June it is 3.21. July is all the way up to 3.90 and August is at 3.75. September is easily the worst of the group where his ERA jumps all the way to 4.22 for his career. It may be tough to hand an extra inning to the bullpen with how they have pitched lately, but if it allows the Reds ace to be strong down the stretch, it will be worth it.