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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Baseball | Here's Johnny!

After six innings, he's at 10 Ks, 0 BBs, 1 H, 1 R. The only hit was a 95 mph fastball on the inside corner right above the belt that 20-year-old phenom Justin Upton turned on and deposited into the left field bleachers. I think every other D-Back hitter whiffs on that pitch. Upton is lightning-quick inside.

Sitting on just 77 pitches thru six, they're sending him back out there for the 7th. Let's see how he fares after donning the jacket to run around the bases.

Still throwing 95 mph cheese at the knees. Cueto sends them down in order, and I'm guessing this is his last inning. A rookie with his first start in April doesn't need to go beyond 92 pitches and 7 innings. Make sure he leaves the game knowing those hitters can't touch his stuff.

Not a bad major league debut: one batter over the minimum with zero walks and 10 strikeouts. He's drawing the Pedro Martinez comparisons because of the physical similarities, the swagger, the stuff, and the follow through. When I saw him in spring, I thought he seemed a lot like Roy Oswalt as a prospect. Now that I see him today, I noticed that his best pitch was a 95 mph heater that he could spot on the outside corner at the knees whenever he wanted to . . . sort of a Brad Penny type of low, consistent heater, but Cueto was more willing to work inside than most pitchers.

Courtesy of John Fay's Reds Insider, here's a sampling of Cueto's teammates' reactions:

Bronson Arroyo: "I never saw Pedro (Martinez) throw in his younger years in person. But he reminds me somewhat of him -- smaller guy, Dominican, throws the ball on a really low plane, 94 to 96, not an unbelievably big curveball -- Pedro's is bigger -- but a pitch to get them off the fastball and then good change. It was an unbelievable debut. A young guy, great circumstances -- not much of crowd, more of spring training feel -- any way you cut it it's a nerve-racking day. To do what he did, especially command-wise. When someone's throwing that hard, you'd expect them to be up in the zone a lot. He was just painting at the knee all day. Pretty nasty. The only debut I saw that came close to that was (Jonathan) Papelbon. He's turned out to be pretty damn good."

Francisco Cordero: "Unbelievable. Everything was downhill. Everything was a strike. He attacked the hitters. He made the pitches he wanted to make. Even the home run pitch wasn't bad. The guy just put a good swing on it. It was just amazing. I just wanted to get my job done so he got the win. When you pitch like that, you deserve a win, especially in your big debut."

Adam Dunn: "He's fun to play behind. He gets the ball and throws. He doesn't take a lot of time between pitches. He throws strikes. He's one of those special guys. You can tell it on the mound. He's total different on the mound than he is in the clubhouse. I don't know how describe it."

Paul Bako: "He's tough. He's going to be tough for quite a long time. It was nice to see him come out and be himself, not try to do too much. He obviously wasn't rattled. It really doesn't surprise me. It was very nice to see. Just the way he handles himself, the confidence he has and the ability he has, it doesn't surprise me. He's nice and cool and collected. He knows he's good. He doesn't exude cockiness but he's got confidence about him that just every time out we're going to have a chance to win."

Mike Lincoln: "That was a special outing. But we saw that in spring. He's got that kind of stuff to be able to pitch like that every start. You can see it in him. He's a competitor and he has the stuff to carry him to another level."

Dusty Baker: "What can I say about Johnny Cueto? Great debut. He threw strikes. The linescore says it: Seven innings, one run, one hit, 10 strikeouts. That is some debut right there."

How about the D-Backs? Were they impressed? Orlando Hudson was:

"He was poised. He pitched a good game. The kid’s got a good arm. He’s got some good stuff. Good change-up, good slider. He was throwing that fastball where he wanted to. He had great stuff."

"The win he had today is just another boost of confidence. I’m pretty sure he’ll be just as dominant in his next start."
Tough when he’s putting 95-96 where he wants?
"Yeah. That’s Jake Peavy-like. He’s got that type of stuff. Like Griffey told me, he reminded him of a young Pedro. If he holds out -- and I hope he does -- he’ll have a great career."
When did Griffey say that?
"Two days ago."
"He threw me everything in the book. He had everything working today. He’s feeling confident. That’s good for a young pitcher to go out and do that in his first start. That’s a great boost of confidence right there. He made one mistake and that was to J-Up and you saw where that got him."
What did you think when Juinor told you that?
"You never know. I was like, ‘OK, we’ll see.’ He wasn’t lying. He’s going to be good."

Other notes from the D-Backs series:

I wonder how many Reds fans caught this in the series: Adam Dunn is now playing great situational baseball. He's been the best player on the team since he arrived in the majors, but I've never seen him play like this. Did the light flip on with him? Did Dusty get ahold of him? Is Dunn finally setting the tone for the team? Basically, all of the hometown complaints about his game over the past five years were answered in the series. In the first game, he made the smartest play of any Reds hitter when he reached for a RBI ground out to second as opposed to his normal routine of getting down to an early 0-2 count. In the ninth inning of game two, he had a terrific at bat and ended up beating the shift with a ground ball the other way to keep the inning going for Encarnacion's homer. Today, he starred on defense including the running into the wall play that had Cueto all smiles. If Dunn keeps playing situational baseball, the Reds are a different team.

  • It's been awhile since the Reds have had a better closer than the opposition. They beat up on Brandon Lyon last night, and turned around today to hand the ball over to Francisco Cordero for a 1-2-3 ninth.
  • I honestly enjoy Jeff Brantley's pitching analysis, but he was dead wrong on Encarnacion last night---irresponsibly wrong. I was happy to see Thom Brennaman stick up to him and point out his clutch hitting stats. Take that, Cowboy!
  • Ken Griffey Jr.'s legs are gone. I say this every April, and he waits a month before heating up in May. But every year, he gets noticeably slower in the field and on the bases while taking longer to find his legs at the plate. I think he's going to hurt the Reds this season, and they should look to deal him and open RF for Bruce ASAP. At the very least, he should be hitting 5th with Dunn moving to 3rd.
  • Jeff Keppinger has to play everyday, so he can stay in the 2-hole in the lineup. It's simply a different offense with him penciled in. He's almost certainly going to platoon at 1B against right-handers when Alex Gonzalez comes back, but he should be playing a lot of shortstop as well. He may not be as dynamic of a shortstop as Gonzalez, but he's as fundamentally sound as can be and his offensive advantage more than makes up for any defensive shortcomings.
  • Despite Encarnacion's walk-off HR last night, he's still doing the same thing he does every time he gets in a slump: he's trying to pull every pitch, including the ones off the outside corner. It's the curse of Reds third basemen. When EdE takes those pitches to the right-center gap, he's an animal at the plate. He has to change his mindset somewhat at the plate.
  • Boy, Kent Mercker looked fantastic in game two. He almost struck out the side, and you know that's Stanton and not Mercker being trotted out there if Dusty isn't the manager. How about Mercker's story? He suffered that cerebral hemorrhage (some say aneurism) back in 2000, and then he undergoes Tommy John surgery a year and a half ago at age 38. He was ready to call it quits on a fine career---as most would at that age, but he admirably decided to put himself through the year-long recovery and try out for the team in spring training. He pitched well enough to make the team and may well be the go-to lefty in Dusty's bullpen this season. Great story.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up about Johnny Cueto. He had me at Hello.

Chris Wesseling said...

Hey, I'm just trying to make up for that Byron Leftwich call that never panned out. It's the least I could do.