Thursday afternoon Jonny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds went out threw seven shutout innings. He only allowed three hits and two walks, while striking out a season high nine batters.
Coming into the 2011 season, back when the Reds playoff hopes seemed much brighter, many people thought the Reds were that big “ace” from being the National League Central favorites. Hence the rumors of them trading for James Shields, Josh Johnson, or Ubaldo Jimenez.
But Cueto is proving he is in their category and earning that tag as well. Cueto made his MLB debut on April 3, 2008 where he became the first pitcher in MLB history to strike out 10 batters while walking no batters in their MLB debut.
Though after his debut, the rest 2008 he looked much more like the rookie he was; finishing with a 9-14 record and 4.81 ERA.
Cueto has always had the stuff to be a top major league pitcher, but it takes more than just pure stuff to be great. Year in and year out is littered with pitchers with great stuff that never reach their potential.
Something Cueto can really hang his hat on is the fact that you can argue he got better with every season of experience he has gotten so far.
In 2011 Cueto appears to come to the realization that living around 91-92 mph with movement and superior location is preferred over a 95-96mph fastball that might end up in the middle of the plate. He can still crank it up there when need be, but he is working deeper into games at almost seven innings per start on average and staying out of the middle of the plate in general.
Cueto has turned to more of a sinker baller philosophy throwing more 2-seam fastballs rather than 4-seem fastballs. According to Fangraphs, his ground ball percentage (Ground balls/Balls in Play) has jumped from 41.7% in 2010 to 53.4% thus far in 2011. His strike out rate is down from years past as well.
Cueto also has a new delivery he started doing against the New York Yankees in June where he turns his back a lot farther where his chest basically faces center field, kind of like a torpedo you have the new Johnny Cueto of 2011.
His confidence seems at an all-time high as well. He does not appear to get rattled and he appears to believe he can make any pitch at any time.
Since he missed time at the beginning of the year he never qualified for the ERA lead in the NL until late July. But all year he has kept the Reds in the game, 15 of his 17 starts have been quality starts. So even when he does not have his best stuff on a given day, he has found a way to get the job done.
The only major blemish on his game log in 2011 is his start he made at Wrigley Field on August 6. Cueto allowed a season high 5 runs while only registering 3 2/3 innings.