CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Right-hander Johnny Cueto emphatically made his case, again, that he should be part of the Reds rotation."I think so. I'm working on it," said Cueto on Wednesday after dealing four scoreless innings of relief for a save in the Reds' 6-1 win over the Phillies. Before the game, one observer believed the Reds should aim higher. "He's your ace ... right now," a Major League scout opined before Wednesday's Reds-Phillies game. Cueto allowed one hit, one walk and hit a batter. He struck out two. His outing consisted of 49 pitches, including 33 strikes. It was a strong follow-up to his impressive three-scoreless-inning start vs. the Pirates on Friday. "I'm happy because I pitched good," Cueto said through teammate and interpreter Jolbert Cabrera. Entering in the sixth, Cueto started by giving up Greg Dobbs' blooped single near the left-field foul line and then hit Chase Utley in the leg with a fastball. But, he escaped when he got Ryan Howard to ground into a 4-6-3 double play. Pat Burrell popped out behind the plate. "Cueto was a little out of his routine," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He wasn't quite as sharp. He didn't get to prepare like he usually does before the game. He was very good, again." In the 1-2-3 seventh, Cueto struck out two batters, including Geoff Jenkins on a hard pitch in the dirt. "He looked good. It looked like he had real good stuff," Jenkins said. "He was keeping us off balance. His fastball was moving good." In the ninth, Cueto finished with three flyouts to center field. On one of the at-bats, with Howard, he fell into a 3-0 count but didn't give in and got him out with a 3-2 pitch. "That young man comes to pitch," Baker said. "He doesn't want to give up anything. He continues to impress."
Through three games, including one start, Cueto has a 1.00 ERA and eight strikeouts in nine innings with just one walk. He has continued to set the bar high in his competition for a rotation spot against Homer Bailey, Edinson Volquez, Matt Belisle, Josh Fogg and Jeremy Affeldt."I had some really good people tell me about Cueto," Baker said. "People from other organizations that had nothing to gain from telling me."
Upon taking over as manager of the Reds, Baker was handed dossiers about all of his new players and prospects, including Cueto.Baker didn't want to read the reports too closely, however. "I scanned a lot,'" Baker said before Wednesday's game. "Sometimes reports are a matter of interpretation. Not that I distrust the reports or anything. I'm more trusting of my eyes." What did Baker's eyes say about Cueto? "The same thing they're telling you," Baker said. If that's the case, Cueto could be pitching in Cincinnati come April.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.