Johnny Cueto conducted a pregame interview Sunday steps away from a sign Reds players see every time they walk up the dugout steps: “Expect to win.”
Despite a horrendous final homestand, which concluded with a 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday at Great American Ball Park, that expectation remains for the Reds. They will turn to Cueto at 8:07 p.m. Tuesday in Pittsburgh in the National League Wild card playoff game, hoping to put a five-game losing streak behind them. Tuesday’s winner will play on the road against the Cardinals in the NL Division Series on Thursday.
Two pitchers who grew up 60 miles apart in the Dominican Republic, Cueto and the Pirates’ Francisco Liriano, will take the mound with two long-suffering fan bases behind them. The Reds haven’t won a postseason series in 18 years. The Pirates’ drought stretches to 1979.
It’s a big game for the Reds and also for Cueto. Realizing the significance of the game, Cueto had a special message for his home country.
“I want to tell my people in the Dominican Republic to follow this game,” Cueto said. “There’s two Dominicans on the mound. I want to give advice to all the youth. You have to work hard and continue working hard to do things like this.”
Cueto was named the starter Saturday when Mat Latos informed pitching coach Bryan Price that his arm was hurting — or “barking,” as Reds manager Dusty Baker described it. The opportunity gives Cueto the chance to redeem himself after leaving the first game of the 2012 playoffs, a Division Series game against the Giants, with back spasms.
Latos came to the rescue in that game, pitching four innings of relief off the bench. Now it’s Cueto being called on to replace Latos. Cueto is 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA in a season that has featured three trips to the disabled list. He’s 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA in two starts since returning from the DL on Sept. 16.
“We’ve got full faith in Johnny Cueto,” Baker said. “Hopefully, this works out fine. We win Tuesday, and Latos comes back to be ready Thursday. If not, we’ll go in a different direction.”
Baker said Latos suggested he could pitch in relief Tuesday if needed. Baker didn’t like that idea.
“I’m going to suggest that he’s not on the roster at all in that first game,” Baker said. “We’ll put him on the roster if he shows marked improvement once we get to Atlanta or St. Louis.”
Cingrani update: Baker said the Reds may send injured starter Tony Cingrani to Arizona to get some work, just in case he might be called upon to pitch in the postseason. Cingrani hasn’t pitched since Sept. 10 because of a back injury.
“He could probably go a couple of innings (Sunday),” Baker said, “but it’s not fair to him or us for him to go more than that. He’s too valuable to our future.”
Final stats: Jay Bruce fell two doubles short of becoming the 45th player in Major League history with at least 45 doubles, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in a season. Bruce finished with a career-high 43 doubles, 30 home runs and a career-high 109 RBIs. He also struck out a career-high 184 times.
Joey Votto became the first Red to appear in all 162 games since Aaron Boone in 2002. He reached base 316 times, a Reds record.