Pitcher Cueto shuts down Pirates as Reds cruise to victory at PNC
This time, Johnny Cueto didn't drop the ball.
For the second time in a week, the Pirates were unable to muster any offense against Cueto. The right-hander allowed only three hits as the Cincinnati Reds rolled to a 4-1 victory.
Cueto blanked the Pirates on three hits last Wednesday in Cincinnati. Andrew McCutchen's solo homer in the ninth inning spoiled Cueto's bid to become the first Reds pitcher to toss consecutive complete-game shutouts since Tom Seaver in September 1977.
It was Cueto's first start at PNC Park since his clumsy outing Oct. 1 in the NL wild-card game, when he yielded four runs on eight hits in 31⁄3 innings.
That night, as 41,000 fans chanted Cueto's name in a mock cheer, the baseball slipped out of his hand and rolled off the mound. Russell Martin homered on the next pitch, and the Pirates cruised to a 6-2 victory.
Tuesday, there was no “blackout” at PNC Park. There wasn't a full house, either — the turnout of 11,926 was dwarfed by the crowd gathered across town for a Bruce Springsteen concert — so the “Cwaaay-toe!” chants were muted.
“I heard them, but what I have to do is just laugh,” Cueto said through an interpreter. “That's their job. That's part of (being) fans. That's part of the past.”
The Pirates got a hit in each of the first two innings. That was only one less hit than they managed in nine innings of a 4-0 loss against Cueto on April 16 in Cincinnati. However, the two early singles did not start a deluge — or even a trickle — of hits.
After Travis Snider lined a two-out single in the second, Cueto set down 13 straight batters. McCutchen broke Cueto's spell in the sixth by drawing a two-out walk.
“The guy you saw today? That's normal. That's Johnny Cueto,” Cueto said. “The last time we were here, it was just another game. That's in the past. No extra motivation.”
Cueto handcuffed the Pirates by using what manager Clint Hurdle described as an “X” approach. Against righty hitters, Cueto threw a two-seamer that ran in and a cutter than went back over the plate. Against lefties, Cueto fired cutters in and two-seamers out.
“He was X-ing both sides of the plate with command and efficiency,” Hurdle said. “He's not really a guy, when he's throwing strikes, who you can wait out. He's been really, really tough. We've talked, and we have a plan to do something different (against him) next time.”
Pirates righty Edinson Volquez (1-1) was brilliant through six innings against his former team. He held the Reds to one hit, retired nine in a row at one point and threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the first 21 batters.
“It's always fun to pitch against your former teammates,” Volquez said. “Johnny and I are good friends. He's one of the best pitchers in the National League right now. He's been doing a pretty good job against us.”
The Reds finally broke through against Volquez with four hits in the seventh.
Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier hit back-to-back singles. With one out, Brayan Pena lined an RBI single to right and was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. Zach Cozart pulled a double into the left field corner to make it 2-0.
Cueto (2-2) made a statement in the bottom of the inning by retiring the Pirates in order on seven pitches.
Volquez and Cueto were teammates in Cincinnati from 2008 to 2011. However, their careers moved in opposite directions.
After going 17-6 in 2008, Volquez won a total of 13 games over the next three years with the Reds. Cueto has notched double-digit victories in three of the past five years, although he made only 11 starts last season because of injuries.
The turning point for Cueto, according to Hurdle, came three years ago when he added an exaggerated Luis Tiant-style turn to his windup.
“All of the sudden, he put that in, and I'm thinking, ‘Holy cow,' ” Hurdle said. “Somebody said it was going to ruin him. I said it might just take him to another level because he's uncommon in that way. And look at what he's been able to do with it.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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