For a team still trying to find their way Johnny Cueto is doing his part; dominating opposing hitters, making his case for the pitcher of the month in the National League in April and keeping the Cincinnati Reds afloat. Cueto is now 2-2 on the season with a 1.38 ERA and a WHIP of just 0.77.
Cueto pitched his second straight complete game Tuesday night, giving up just one run and three hits in stopping the division rival Pittsburgh Pirates 4-1. He now has 39 strikeouts and 11 walks in 39 innings while opponents are hitting .140 against him this season in Cincinnati. Dominating stuff.
The Reds now have won five of their last seven games, thanks in part to Cueto, and a change in the batting order by manager Bryan Price that continues to pay dividends for the Cincinnati offense. Price inserted slugger Joey Votto into the second spot in the order on April 12 and a couple of days later the Reds started getting hot.
Votto solidified the top of the order where rookie Billy Hamilton was struggling, giving the speedster more pitches to hit and lessened the pressure on him. It also sparked Votto, who got off to a slow start but is now hitting .292 with four home runs and 15 bases-on-balls for an OBP of .422. That is a significant stat for a number-two hitter in a lineup where the leadoff man is struggling. The big picture on the lineup change is this: Cincinnati averaged just 2.8 runs per game to start the season, next to last in all of baseball. Since the switch the Reds’ offense has spiked considerably, scoring 5.5 runs per game, second best in baseball.
Not only is Cueto dominating and Votto surging, but the play of catcher Devin Mesoraco has been as big a factor as any in getting the Reds going again. The 25-year old catcher started the season on the disabled list, but since coming off the DL he has hit .541 with three home runs and 12 RBI. Mesoraco has a slugging percentage of .946 and an OPS of 1.517.
Aroldis Chapman threw his third practice session Sunday and is scheduled to throw batting practice today before the Reds game with Pittsburgh at PNC Park. It will be the first time Chapman has thrown to “live” hitters since his injury five weeks ago. Price indicated that Chapman is throwing all of his pitches without any issues but the Reds are making sure he recovers in timely fashion before he can be put on the active roster.
If for any reason Chapman cannot pitch batting practice tonight he will throw another bullpen session instead and will pitch to live hitters Saturday during practice in Atlanta. Either way Price indicated that throwing batting practice is the last hurdle Chapman must clear before starting a rehab assignment in the minor leagues.
Cincinnati still has two games left with the Pirates before heading to Atlanta for a three game series this weekend. Next week they return home to host the Chicago Cubs for three games and the NL Central division-leading Milwaukee Brewers for three more. If the Reds keep getting dominant performances from Cueto, get Chapman back and keep the offense rolling then they have a chance to gain some ground as April turns to May.
Commentary By Mick Varner
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Cincinnati Reds