CINCINNATI -- As people looked toward next week's rematch of the Cardinals and Reds, many had Johnny Cueto penciled in for the series-opener at Busch Stadium.
Dusty Baker wasn't one of them.
Cueto pitched Friday night against Chicago and will start next Wednesday in the finale of a series against the Brewers on regular rest, missing the showdown with the Cardinals.
Cueto was suspended seven games for kicking St. Louis' Chris Carpenter and Jason LaRue during an on-field melee on Aug. 10.
When asked if he was relieved if he wouldn't have to face the Cardinals, Cueto just shrugged.
"It doesn't matter, if I need to pitch there, I have to pitch," Cueto said through translator and Juan "Porky" Lopez. "If I have to go to the mound, I'll be on the mound."
Unless the teams meet in the National League Championship Series, it's unlikely Cueto will face the Cardinals until next season. Considering the ugliness of the fight and the severity of the injuries suffered by LaRue, it's hard to believe it'll be forgotten then -- the reunion just won't have the added drama of a playoff race.
For his part, Cueto returned to form on Friday, allowing one run on six hits against the Cubs, striking out eight without walking a batter in eight innings. Most telling was his rhythm, he was smooth throughout and pitched quickly, as the Reds wrapped up the 7-1 victory at Great American Ball Park in a tidy 2:14. The Cardinals kept pace with the Reds, earning a 4-2 victory in Washington.
Cueto said in each of his last two outings -- the game against the Cardinals and his post-suspension start in Los Angeles -- he was overthrowing. In those two games combined, he allowed 12 hits and nine earned runs, walking three and striking out six in 8 1/3 innings. He also saw his ERA jump from 3.24 to 3.62 on the season. With his performance against the Cubs, it was back down to 3.49.
"After I got that suspension, I was feeling too strong and I was overthrowing. I was working out between starts to get better rhythm back and better mechanics," Cueto said. "Today was on of the best days I had pitching in the big leagues, with my rhythm, I was locating my pitches well and I was comfortable with the pitches Ramon [Hernandez] was calling."
With question marks in their rotation, the Reds need this Cueto down the stretch -- no matter the opponent.
-- C. Trent Rosecrans
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