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09/02/08 7:20 PM ET

Cueto to return to Reds rotation

Rookie right-hander could make four or five more starts

CINCINNATI -- Convinced his coveted right arm is sound and healthy, the Reds plan to have pitcher Johnny Cueto return to the rotation on Saturday to face the Cubs.

Cueto has not pitched since Aug. 24, when his outing against the Rockies was cut short after three innings because of soreness behind his elbow. It was later diagnosed as a posterior strain caused by a hyperextension.

"Really in Colorado, he didn't want to come out of the game," Reds pitching coach Dick Pole said. "That was more precaution than anything else."

Cueto threw a bullpen session on Sunday, and he is scheduled to throw what would normally be a between-starts side session on Wednesday.

Pole supervised Cueto, and the coach said the right-hander had no physical problems while throwing.

"He was throwing hard the other day in the bullpen -- hard sliders and fastballs. He was cutting it loose," Pole said.

In 27 starts during his rookie season, Cueto is 8-12 with a 4.65 ERA. The 22-year-old has thrown 155 innings, which is just over six innings shy of the career high he set while pitching in the Minor Leagues last season.

With the Reds out of contention as the season moves to its final month, few eyebrows would have been raised had the club decided to shut down Cueto for the rest of the season as a precaution. Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker had no worries that having Cueto resume pitching would be harmful.

"If something was wrong with him, I would have no problem shutting him down," Baker said. "The trainers and doctors gave him clearance. That's what I have to go on. I can't even go on his clearance yet because he's going to say he's fine."

Cueto could have up to four or five more starts remaining if there are no more setbacks. Baker believed the final month still could be useful preparation for the future for Cueto.

"It's not serious. If a guy is healthy and nothing is wrong with him, why would you shut him down?" Baker said. "What's going to happen next year when we're in a playoff run and he's never pitched in September? He's not in any better position than he is this year. Or what happens if he has to pitch in October? You have to get to that certain pinnacle if you've never been there on how to handle it emotionally and physically at the same time."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.